Sunday Times

Vague visa rules still a good sign, says SA Tourism’s Sisa Nt­shona

Proof that gov­ern­ment at­ti­tudes are chang­ing, says SA Tourism boss

- By CHRIS BAR­RON Travel · Society · Immigration · Malusi Gigaba · Council · Cyril Ramaphosa · United States of America · Ethiopia · Rwanda · India · Derek Hanekom · Johannesburg International Airport · Oliver Tambo · Business Times

● The an­nounce­ment this week by home af­fairs min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba, sup­pos­edly eas­ing visa re­stric­tions, was blasted as con­fus­ing and well short of re­quire­ments by the tourism in­dus­try. But SA Tourism boss Sisa Nt­shona says it’s a step in the right di­rec­tion.

“It’s the first im­mi­gra­tion re­form for a very long time and starts the process to where we can be much smoother, more pre­dictable and more ef­fi­cient in pro­cess­ing peo­ple in and out of the coun­try,” he says.

When the for­mer in­vest­ment banker be­came CEO of the state tourism body two years ago, dra­co­nian visa reg­u­la­tions in­tro­duced by Gi­gaba in 2015 had be­come a night­mare for the in­dus­try.

Gi­gaba in­sisted they were nec­es­sary to counter child traf­fick­ing, and Nt­shona gave him the ben­e­fit of the doubt.

“I sin­cerely want to be­lieve that no-one wakes up and says, ‘I’m go­ing to de­lib­er­ately hold this sec­tor back’,” he said at the time.

It’s his job to “take an op­ti­mistic line”, he says.

And so he sees Gi­gaba’s an­nounce­ment as “an op­por­tu­nity for home af­fairs to re­it­er­ate very clearly and suc­cinctly what he means”.

Does he know what Gi­gaba means?

“We in­ter­pret him to mean unabridged birth cer­tifi­cates are no longer com­pul­sory for in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors with mi­nors.”

Ex­cept that Gi­gaba didn’t ac­tu­ally say this. What he said was that im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials would only in­sist on full doc­u­men­ta­tion for for­eign mi­nors “by ex­cep­tion, in high­risk sit­u­a­tions”.

The Tourism Busi­ness Coun­cil of SA said this meant that doc­u­men­ta­tion would still be re­quired and that “noth­ing has changed”.

The South­ern Africa Tourism Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion said Gi­gaba’s “ob­fus­cated mes­sage” had rein­tro­duced the con­fu­sion cre­ated when his reg­u­la­tions were in­tro­duced in 2015.

“The real test will be how this pans out in the next cou­ple of months,” says Nt­shona. “If it doesn’t then we’ll have a case to say we need more clar­ity, use more de­lib­er­ate, suc­cinct, in­struc­tive words.”

He says scep­ti­cism about Gi­gaba’s an­nounce­ment il­lus­trates a “trust deficit” be­tween the in­dus­try and the min­is­ter, which could be bad for tourism if it is not healed.

He says it’s not for him to say if there should be a more pro-tourism min­is­ter than Gi­gaba at home af­fairs.

“He’s ap­pointed by the pres­i­dent and serves at his plea­sure.”

He’s con­fi­dent that Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa “un­der­stands the im­por­tance of tourism”, and that in Derek Hanekom the in­dus­try has a min­is­ter who is “on top of his game”.

“That gives me great com­fort in this space that the en­vi­ron­ment is be­ing cre­ated for tourism to get where it needs to be.”

Nt­shona adds that the direct con­tri­bu­tion to GDP by the tourism sec­tor is 3%, which he be­lieves could be as high as 20%.

“Sec­tors like min­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing are strug­gling. Tourism should be lead­ing the charge in terms of con­tri­bu­tion to GDP.

“Tourism’s a no-brainer. No other sec­tor can con­trib­ute as much across so many sec­tors.”

He says the coun­try still doesn’t have “an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the im­pact of tourism”. But Gi­gaba’s an­nounce­ment shows that the gov­ern­ment’s at­ti­tude to tourism is chang­ing.

“Two years ago home af­fairs thought they had no role to play in tourism. They thought their pri­mary role was to keep peo­ple out of the coun­try. They’re now talk­ing tourism.”

The min­istry of po­lice “now un­der­stands that keep­ing cit­i­zens safe adds to the at­trac­tive­ness of a coun­try. They’re also be­gin­ning to un­der­stand that they play a role in tourism.”

Now they need to un­der­stand that their role is not just to pro­tect tourists but also to make the whole coun­try safer, and that if they don’t it has a huge im­pact not just on tourism but on in­vest­ment.

“Who’s go­ing to in­vest in a coun­try where there is law­less­ness?”

While the rest of the world grap­ples with ter­ror­ism, “we have crime. And we have to get that right if we want a thriv­ing tourist in­dus­try,” Nt­shona says.

In­dus­try play­ers meet twice a month with the po­lice and share sta­tis­tics and “in­ci­dents” — such as the spate of “fol­low-me-home” in­ci­dents from OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port, which be­came im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore when a bus­ful of Dutch tourists was hi­jacked last year.

“That did us a huge amount of dam­age.” In­dus­try play­ers got to­gether with the po­lice and said “we need a plan around the air­ports. That’s when we saw a big­ger po­lice pres­ence and those num­bers have come down.”

Two years ago, Nt­shona told Busi­ness Times, there was a de­press­ing fail­ure by the gov­ern­ment to un­der­stand the eco­nomic im­por­tance of tourism.

Its at­ti­tude to tourism was one of “in­dif­fer­ence at best, in spite of tourism’s be­ing pri­ori­tised in the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan”. There was lit­tle if any in­ter­de­part­men­tal co-or­di­na­tion around tourism, with Gi­gaba’s visa reg­u­la­tions be­ing a stark il­lus­tra­tion of this.

Cabinet level

Now, he says, he is “con­fi­dent that at cabinet level the con­ver­sa­tions are start­ing to be co­or­di­nated”.

He says it’s dif­fi­cult to quan­tify the cost to the coun­try of the visa de­ba­cle “be­cause you can’t mea­sure op­por­tu­nity cost”.

Like­wise, it is dif­fi­cult to quan­tify the im­pact of ad­vi­sory no­tices is­sued by coun­tries such as the US.

But the fact is that last year South African tourism grew by 3% ver­sus a global av­er­age of 7%.

“And if we’re per­form­ing at less than half the world av­er­age in spite of our unique of­fer­ing it means we are do­ing some­thing wrong.”

While ea­ger to credit Gi­gaba for his move to ease visa reg­u­la­tions, he sug­gests the min­is­ter is way be­hind the curve.

“What would have been mind-blow­ing is a move to­wards e-visas, which are much more se­cure, con­sis­tent and ef­fi­cient.

“Com­plet­ing a form on­line, get­ting a re­sponse in 48 hours, rock­ing up at a port of en­try and giv­ing the bio­met­rics — that’s where we need to get to. It’s hap­pen­ing around the world, and we need to catch up.”

SA is a long way be­hind its com­peti­tors, he says.

“We lost our way a bit. When we’re be­hind coun­tries we used to be far ahead of, such as Ethiopia, Rwanda and In­dia, which are us­ing e-visas, you know just how far be­hind we are. We re­ally are be­hind.”

Two years ago, home af­fairs thought their role was to keep peo­ple out of SA … they’re now talk­ing tourism

Sisa Nt­shona

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 ??  ?? SA Tourism boss Sisa Nt­shona says that ‘tourism’s a no-brainer. No other sec­tor can con­trib­ute as much across so many sec­tors.’
SA Tourism boss Sisa Nt­shona says that ‘tourism’s a no-brainer. No other sec­tor can con­trib­ute as much across so many sec­tors.’

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