It is the tourism industry, and not Home Affairs, that is to blame for the decline in South Africa’s tourism, Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba told the Sunday Times.
This follows complaints that new visa requirements are discouraging tourism and that a new system to capture the biometric data of foreign visitors is causing massive queues at OR Tambo International airport.
The biometric screening was meant to take place at South African missions abroad, but this caused problems because equipment wasn’t in place.
The complaint resulted in an enquiry from an interministerial committee chaired by Cyril Ramaphosa, which decided visitors’ biometrics would be captured at ports of entry.
Now, OR Tambo’s immigration queues are so long that visitors are missing their flights.
According to the Sunday Times, between 1 and 18 October, around 800 passengers missed their connecting flights, and 24 domestic and 9 international flights were delayed.
No quick fix
According to Gigaba, the mess is the tourism industry’s fault.
He said stakeholders opposed biometric prescreening in their countries of origin and were made aware of the risks of doing the biometric capture at ports of entry.
It will only be in 2-3 years that you will have easier entry into South Africa, and then mainly for frequent travellers whose biometric data has already been captured, said Gigaba.
Stop being crybabies
Gigaba said the decline in South African tourism was not due to changes Home Affairs introduced, and blamed the tourism industry.
Instead of whining about the impact of visa regulations and biometric requirements, the tourism industry should market South Africa more effectively, he said.
“Visa regulations don’t discourage people from visiting a country,” said Gigaba.
“People go to the US all the time with the stringent visa regulations they have.”
Challenged on the Tourism Council’s claims that the delays at OR Tambo are because immigration officers aren’t properly trained, Gigaba conceded the roll-out wasn’t a success.
He said this was due to a lack of resources, and his department has historically been underfunded.
Security vs convenience
The main reason for the changes to Home Affairs’ immigration policies was to keep South Africa safe, said Gigaba.
“Do you understand the importance of keeping South Africa safe? Can you imagine the impact on the tourism sector if we were to allow any incident to take place?”
“There will be no tourism industry if a security incident happens because we were sleeping.”
“We live in a continent where there are real risks. If any accidents caused by unwanted people were to happen in South Africa then the question would be asked: Why didn’t you take proactive steps?”
Terrorists and criminals were not waiting for smoother travel through our ports of entry, he said.
“They are getting closer and closer and we need to take steps now.”
The full report is available in the Sunday Times of 13 November 2016.