The news that unabridged birth certificates will no longer be required for foreign children travelling to South Africa was just beginning to trend when SA Home Affairs announced that they would be tackling another obstacle to inbound tourism within the country. On the 7th of October 2019, the Department announced that it would be launching its e-visa pilot scheme in November.
What do e-visas mean for tourism in SA?
The impending new e-visa pilot scheme will allow visa applicants to access their documents online, therefore eliminating the need for them to visit South African missions abroad.
Essentially, along with cheap flight tickets, this means that it is easier and more convenient than ever before to travel to South Africa. This change comes in response to the government’s plans of doubling inbound tourism numbers and reaching 21 million, by the year 2030.
The goal of the Department of Home Affairs was to get rid of as much of the ‘red tape’ as possible that may be preventing foreign travellers from making an effort to visit our country. The upcoming introduction of e-visas is just one step towards encouraging a greater number of international visitors. The department has worked hard to ensure that turnaround times for various visas are much faster than they have been in the past.
“The Department of Home Affairs has lowered turnaround times for critical work skills visas, which are now issued within four weeks in 88.5% of applications. Business and general work visas are issued within eight weeks in 98% of applications,” said Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi.
Along with that, Motsoaledi mentioned that the Department has also recently located visa services within the offices of various investment facilitation agencies around the country.
Furthermore, the requirements for obtaining a visa to travel to South Africa from various countries in Asia have been drastically simplified. Travellers from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, New Zealand, Cuba, Ghana and São Tomé and Principe can now visit South Africa visa-free.
How big of a difference will these changes make?
According to David Frost, CEO of SATSA (Southern African Tourism Services Association), it is too soon to tell. However, the effects are expected to be positive and substantial.
“It’s too soon to tell how this has impacted tourism numbers since the new statistics have yet to be announced, but one only has to look at how tourism numbers decreased from New Zealand in 2017 when visas became mandatory for visitors to South Africa, to be able to ascertain the positive impact the reverse would have,” he commented.
What about safety?
While the promise of increased tourism means great things for the country from an economic standpoint, it does raise concerns regarding South Africa’s safety. Many locals have been left wondering whether the rules and regulations have been relaxed too much. Motsoaledi, however, insists that the Department of Home Affairs has not forgotten about safety despite the numerous alterations to local travel policies.
“The Department of Home Affairs is constantly reviewing its operations to ensure that we relax entry requirements without compromising our responsibility towards the safety and security of our citizens,” he said in a recent interview.
The next few months and years will determine just how much these new visa changes will alter the South African tourism landscape. Considering the drastic decline in recent times, one can only hope to see a vast improvement going forward.