South Africa’s tourism industry has been abuzz with controversy and indignation over the nation’s strict new visa regulations, which they say could cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming year.
Under the new regulations, travelers are required to provide biometric data in person when applying for tourist visas. The government has also tightened controls on children traveling.
The man tasked with marketing South Africa to the world says that although the new rules have had “unintended consequences” - a phrase borrowed from President Jacob Zuma - they do have a purpose.
VOA sat down with new Brand South Africa CEO Kingsley Makhubela in Johannesburg to talk about how the new rules have affected his task of marketing the country to the world.
The former government tourism official did acknowledge that the new rules have caused some trouble.
“If you listen to people who are in the tourism industry, they are making a compelling case about the unintended consequences of these visa regulations,” he said.
Makhubela said the growing rate of child trafficking has made the new regulations necessary; but, the government’s claim that South Africa hosts some 30,000 trafficked children each year is unsubstantiated, says Africa Check, a non-profit fact-checking organization. Furthermore, critics of the strict new rules note that child traffickers often resort to illegal and underhanded means to move their charges across borders.
“I think when the new visa regulation was issued out, the intention was basically to protect these vulnerable people and to deal with this multi-billion-dollar business that is emerging in terms of trafficking human beings,” Makhubela said. “And the issue here, and that is what is coming from the tourism industry, is that it’s having unintended consequences on tourism. And there’s been a lot of voices saying that.”
Makhubela said he is hopeful that a recently announced government committee will iron out the difficulties caused by the new rules.
“I think it’s going to be a delicate balance to really find, but there is a system in place to try to address this issue,” he said. “It’s not a question of either/or - all the tourists, they bring a lot of contributions to the country, create jobs and so on - but we also need to address the plight of vulnerable children that are being trafficked around the world.”