Tourism businesses in Mossel Bay have begun to feel the effects of reduced visitor numbers as a direct result of South Africa’s new visa regulations.
One company – Unravel Surf Travel, which offers 14-day tours that are sold largely in the Russian market – has reported that four of the six guests who booked for a tour that’s scheduled to start this month have cancelled as a direct result of the new visa requirements.
The company’s Hermann Vivier said that the tour will go ahead, but that it will cost money, instead of generating a profit.
Western Cape MEC of Economic Opportunities, Alan Winde, who last month petitioned Parliament to suspend the regulations pending an assessment of their effects, has called the regulations impractical, irrational and unlawful.
He said that a report on the hearings of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament’s standing committee on agriculture and economic development into the effects of the regulations is expected to be published this week.
“These regulations have already had – and will continue to have – a huge negative effect on the economy,” he said.
“At a time when everyone else around the world is looking at how to make travel easier, we’re going in the opposite direction.” (Indeed, a new study by Skift.com – the world’s “largest industry intelligence and marketing platform” – places the relaxation of visa regulations as one of the 14 trends affecting tourism in 2014: “Nations around the world are recognizing visa fees and processes as a major blockade to tourism and economic growth.”)
“It’s clear that the Department of Home Affairs did not consult with the role players, and that it made no effort to understand the effect that the regulations would have on the economy,” said MEC Winde, who added that that his office will therefore “find the budget to conduct a full regulatory impact assessment.”
Mossel Bay Tourism’s Marcia Holm said that Mossel Bay, and indeed the entire country, cannot afford to lose business due to the effects of ill-conceived bureaucracy.
“We sympathise with Home Affairs and Minister Gigaba’s intentions to secure South Africa’s borders, but we believe that he failed to listen when the tourism industry made its position on the new visa regulations clear some time ago.
“We were heartened last month when he suspended the proposal that children would have to carry unabridged birth certificates when they enter and leave the country. We believe that this shows that he’s willing to listen and negotiate with the industry.”
She said that the effects of the regulations are being felt well beyond the tourism economy.
“Unravel Surf Travel is a small business and social enterprise that supports the hugely inspiring Surfer Kids NON-Profit, which provides unprecedented development opportunities for children from one of the poorest parts of Mossel Bay.”
The Surfer Kids NON-Profit aims to broaden its members’ horizons by “empowering youths in marginalised communities through surfing.”
Ms. Holm said that each of Unravel Surf Travel’s tours of the Garden Route includes interactions with the children in the programme. “The visitors spend time surfing with the kids, and the kids spend time showing the visitors around their home village of Friemersheim.
“The fact that Unravel Surf Travel is losing business must be devastating for its own bottom line, and for the accommodation providers and attractions that it supports – but it’s going to be terrible for the Surfer Kids, too.”
Ms. Holm pointed out that Unravel Surf Travel isn’t the only local company that’s feeling the effects of the new visa requirements.
“India and the Asian market were Mossel Bay’s fastest growing source markets before the new regulations came into effect, but this growth has now slowed considerably.
“We call on Minister Gigaba to suspend and review the new regulations in the light of the immediate and clear negative economic and social effects they’re causing.” •