Diani Beach, Kenya. (PHOTO: iStock)
"Six of my colleagues have not made it here, and that is just sad."
Mamadou Goita, originally from Mali and a consultant for Ghana-based travel company Continent Tours explains how has had to hold the fort at World Travel Market Africa - as his companions struggled to make the trip to South Africa due to "technical issues with their visas".
Business travel represents a real opportunity to grow tourism across the African continent, as well as create considerable job opportunities in order to strengthen the economy.
A 2018 World Travel and Tourism Council report of the economic impact of Travel & Tourism in SA shows the sector generated 726 500 jobs directly in 2017 (4.5% of total employment) and this is forecast to grow by 1.0% in 2018 to 734,000 (4.5% of total employment). This includes employment by hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transportation services (excluding commuter services). It also includes, for example, the activities of the restaurant and leisure industries directly supported by tourists.
UPDATE: What travellers need to know about SA's airport e-gates and e-visas pilots
These sentiments, and the delays in addressing the barriers to growing business travel were up for discussion at World Travel Market South Africa 2019, which took place in Cape Town between 10 and 12 April at the Cape Town Convention Centre.
Goita explains while they had made the applications weeks before the event, they were told days in the run-up to the event that the visas could not be processed due to "technical issues".
Speaking to Traveller24 at WTMA, Tourism Business Council of South Africa CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa says this isn't the only market being affected by onerous visas processes.
Tshivhengwa says the sooner SA can fix this issue the better, and any failure to do so contributes to a loss of jobs.
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Plans for a fast-tracked visa programme for trusted travellers was announced by the Department of Home Affairs towards the end of 2018, along with an e-Visa pilot system - meant to begin this month.
At the beginning of April, Traveller24 contacted the Department of Home Affairs for details on the roll-out, who has confirmed that the "eVisa system is in the advance stage of testing" and is expected to be rolled out in "financial year 2019/20 as announced in the 2019 State of the Nation Address".
No further details have been received.
But the full potential of the sector cannot be realised - until key markets including India and China are given optimal, e-visa facilitation. Eased visa rules for China and India, as part of high-level agreements between the countries and South Africa were announced in July during the BRICS summit.
The DHA is also in the process of negotiating a number of reciprocal visas for both leisure and business travel.
South Africa and Kenya have introduced a 10-year multiple entry visa for business people. Reciprocal, multiple entry visa for business came into effect from 1 December. Earlier in September, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a number of negotiations on visa waivers and relaxation of visa requirements can be expected to improve tourism and business travel access to South Africa.
Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom confirmed options being considered included “multiple entry Visa” that would be valid for five years and offer tourists up to 90 days in the country.
READ: UK visa remains expensive and time-consuming for Saffas, but SA's British High Commissioner has some advice for you
But to date - these programmes and pilot projects are not in effect and both business and leisure travellers continue to be affected.
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