Visas: well, what have YOU done about it?

Martin-Hatchuel-2012-WEBA few quick searches of the net this week revealed disturbingly few new articles about Minister Malusi Gigaba’s disastrous visa regulations. You’d ‘a thought there’d have been a typhoon of them. Also – other than ‘lose the regulations’ – very few of them (none of them) have any suggestions for resolving the problems behind the legislation: child trafficking, the security of our borders, and so on.

One can’t help believing that the minister seems to be stonewalling the industry, and no one should accept that from an elected representative. But I wonder if there isn’t another problem at work here: that he and his officials can’t see – we as an industry haven’t offered – any workable alternatives?

As they say: I’m just saying.

So here’s a short inventory of the articles I’ve been reading:

31 July: Visitors ‘just have to bear new visa rules’ (Paul Vecchiatto on BDLive)

18 August: ‘No way we’ll change regulations’ – Gigaba (Tessa Reed in Tourism Update).  I referred to this one in my last letter to you: The Gigaba Question: more than just a threat to tourism.

27 August: Carla Coetzee in The Citizen: ‘Stop complaining about new visa regulations – Gigaba’ – the money shot here being this delightful line: “’People must just calm down and comply. Life will be so much easier,’ Gigaba concluded.” (Well, the last time we calmed down and complied with anybody who spoke to the nation like that, we almost brought the country to its knees. Matter, as I said last week, of a Krokodil refusing to cross a river.)

And then: “SA visa regulations get official green light” (Andrew Moth on 27 August on HotelAndRestaurant.co.za). “The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs has welcomed a ‘detailed briefing’ by the Department of Home Affairs on reasons behind the need for a review of the Immigration Regulations. The committee supports the regulations and has urged the department to implement the regulations.”

… And then yesterday (28 August) a glimmer of hope: “DHA to meet with airlines,” according to travelbuyer.co.za. Although the Department of Home Affairs’ (DHA) spokesperson, Mayihlome Tshwete, did rather pee on that parade with this lulu of a quote: “‘We don’t want to give people the wrong idea. We have agreed to meet with airline representatives in September because they requested a meeting… It is unfortunate that these concerns have been raised at the last minute as these policies have been accessible to the public for a long time.’”

Except, of course, that from tourism’s perspective, that’s exactly what the problem has been: the industry has been saying all along that it hasn’t been consulted. It’s like the Department has decided to spring a trap: see “Talks on tourism red tape fail” by Joseph Booysen on iolTravel on 11 August, and David Frost (“Forget terrorism or floods — SA is its own worst enemy”)  in BDLive on 18 July: “The mantra from home affairs appears to be that ‘no one has come forward to explain what the impact of the proposed regulations will be.’ But officials are ignoring the loud outcry from tourism trade partners in every corner of the world.”

Basta! You get what I’m saying.

If the legislation launches on 1 October, law-abiding people won’t have the time, money, or inclination to comply, so they’ll simply stay away. We know this: the airlines have been trying to tell Minister Gigaba this, and our economy (and not just our tourism economy) is under threat.

Big one.

Last week I had lunch with an incoming tour operator, the good Marco Nicolai of capetravelonline.com,  and he made this point: “Martin,” he said, “we’re telling them not to do it, but what alternatives have we offered them? We’re being negative here, but how can we rather be positive?”

He’s right, of course, so here’s an answer: support the Western Cape’s Economic Development and Tourism Minister, Alan Winde

Earlier this month (20 August), MEC Winde issued a statement titled “International travel operators warn of massive drop in tourism numbers due to Gigaba visa regulations,”  in which he wrote that, “Industry has made it clear that Gigaba’s new regulations will kill tourism, and with it, jobs and growth from the industry.

“This is why I will be petitioning parliament to urgently intervene in suspending these regulations until such time as a Regulatory Impact Assessment has been completed and a plan put in place for their smooth implementation.” (I’ve reproduced the statement in full below, and also here – please read it.)

In a telephone interview on Thursday this week (28 August), MEC Winde said: “They’re trying to use regulation solve a problem, but all that’ll do is create a market for black market birth certificates.”

He emphasised that the problem doesn’t only affect tourism: the film industry is under threat, the business process outsourcing (BPO) people are under threat (they have offices around the world, and they need often to move people between them: young South Africans, for example, who’re sent overseas as juniors, and come back three years later as managers), and, and, and…

“I need to get the regulations put on hold while we go through a public participation process.”

And while he’s working on that, he’s been gathering information – and is continuing to gather information – about how we can “Use technology and innovation to achieve what we want to achieve, and so become the go-to nation that leads the world in immigration procedures.”

So how can we help Alan Winde, and do so as quickly as we can”

“Let us know what the issues are, and what possible alternate solutions we can explore so that we can build a case,” he said.

And you can do that through your local tourism authority, by writing to MEC Winde via Bronwynne Jooste, his spokesperson (bronwynne.jooste@westerncape.gov.za) – or, if you prefer a public platform, you can make your comments on line, and I’ll make sure that they’re forwarded to the department.

We can do this, guys. But you need to play your part.

And talking of playing…

Will you be at the Cape Town City Hall on Saturday 6 September for the funnest and most heart-warming evening of the tourism year – when Uthando (Love) South Africa  presents its 3rd Benefit Event? I will (as a guest of the man behind Uthando’s phenomenal success, the hugely inspirational James Fernie), and I hope I’ll see you there!

Still a few tickets left for sale, so book at Computicket for just R 275.00 per person (although for group bookings of 10 or more, it’s only R 150.00 a head!).

More details on thistourismweek.co.za.

Now go away on holiday – it’s in the economy’s best interest. And have a great tourism week!

Martin Hatchuel – www.thistourismweek.co.za

Statement by Alan Winde, as published on gov.za:

International travel operators warn of massive drop in tourism numbers due to Gigaba visa regulations

It is just 40 days to go until Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba’s new visa regulations come into effect.

Early indications are that they will do significant damage to tourism numbers from South Africa’s traditional and emerging markets.

I have this week received correspondence from concerned hoteliers, travel agents and tour operators from across the Western Cape.

They have received notice from their clients in several countries that they should brace themselves for a halt in business once the regulations come into effect on 1 October 2014.

Tour operators in South America have explained that their countries also have strict processes when travelling with children. Parents have to produce all the necessary documentation including birth certificates.

However, the cost of translating the birth certificate into English in these countries is just over R 1,000.

In addition, it takes about two weeks in these countries to translate the documents.

This is a problem that will be faced by all non-speaking English markets.

This will hit us hard.

South America is an important emerging source market. In 2012, South Africa welcomed close to 80,000 tourists from Brazil, up from just over 32,000 in 2009.

Argentina is one of our fastest-growing markets. Between 2009 and 2012, tourist arrivals into South Africa from Argentina increased by 26.8%.

These laws also do not seem to speak to the trade agenda expressed by the South African government.

South African Airways continues to operate its Johannesburg-Beijing route, despite it running at a purported loss of R 309 million a year. The SA government is keeping the route open to maintain the relationship with our biggest trading partner, China.

Yet, it is expected that Gigaba’s visa regulations will cut Chinese travel to South Africa by 70%.

Reports suggest that Chinese travel agencies are already diverting clients away from South Africa and that key agencies have stopped marketing our destination.

This is a market which has shown a 55% growth in visitor numbers to South Africa since 2009.

It’s also predicted that South Africa’s international meetings economy will take a massive knock. Organisers avoid destinations which incur additional costs for delegates, such as for biometrics.

Industry has made it clear that Gigaba’s new regulations will kill tourism, and with it, jobs and growth from the industry.

This is why I will be petitioning parliament to urgently intervene in suspending these regulations until such time as a Regulatory Impact Assessment has been completed and a plan put in place for their smooth implementation.

We have just 40 days left to stop these regulations from being implemented.

For media queries, kindly contact Bronwynne Jooste, Spokesperson for Western Cape Economic Development and Tourism Minister, Alan Winde
Tel: 021 483 3550
E-mail: bronwynne.jooste@westerncape.gov.za
Twitter: bronwynnejooste

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