Cape Town - Travel regulations to protect travelling minors from possible human trafficking continue to hamper South Africa's tourism industry, according to a survey released by TravelStart.
In 2014, the department of home affairs announced its intention to introduce new unabridged birth certificate rules for minors travelling to and from South Africa - the resulting legislation became a "death knell" for the industry in 2015 with a decline in numbers reported for many of SA's key inbound markets - and an estimated "R7.5bn loss to the tourism economy and a decrease of about 600 000 tourists" in total.
Some three years later, research by TravelStart shows the requirement remains a point of contention for travellers as well as the travel trade, including "airlines and travel agents, who provide a service to inbound and outbound clients".
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Conducted from February 12 to March 12‚ 2018 the online travel agent tapped into the views of 6 000 travellers‚ specifically‚ those who have travelled outside South Africa in the past two years with minors under the age of 18.
The response of some 559 showed that 30% said they have been denied boarding because of unabridged regulations, more than 40% said it took over 6 weeks to acquire an unabridged birth certificate and "most encountered issues when they were departing SA".
A total of 27% said they encountered administrative problems related to the unabridged birth certificate. Added to this, survey participants cited immigration (55%) and check-in (42%) as the points in their journey where they experienced problems.
Travelstart confirmed most airline representatives were reluctant to comment about unabridged birth certificates saying, “it is a sensitive matter and they are only applying the rule set by government.”
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It says two well-known airlines that fly to South Africa daily from hubs overseas confirmed their passengers experienced problems regularly and pointed to a lack of training for immigration officials and confusion at certain stations being the primary cause of unabridged issues. From the airlines perspective most problems occur at immigration and check-in aligning with passengers’ experience.
'Travel and trade industry rife with horror stories'
Travelstart also found that foreign families travelling to South Africa are most negatively affected by unabridged birth certificates. Also, single mothers (33%) being the most negatively affected overall.
"Everywhere in the trade consultants have unabridged-related horror stories to share," says the OTA. the survey further showed:
- 50% agree customers are confused by the regulation.
- 67% of surveyed agents said their clients have been affected by unabridged birth certificate regulation with foreign families travelling to South Africa
TravelStart says experts believe the policy has not been effective in combatting the reason it was implemented - child trafficking - citing, “Real human traffickers don’t follow legitimate and documented methods of travel but cross the border in illegitimate and clandestine circumstances. Therefore so-called ‘innocent’ people may be on the receiving end of regulations intended to target human traffickers.”
Tourism currently sustains 700 000 direct jobs and directly contributes an estimated 2,9% to South African gross domestic product, according Stats SA. However, many across the industry have called for the regulations to be reviewed.
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Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom says the issue of visa regulation facilitation to improve tourism falls squarely on his shoulders, with a meeting set to take place with his department of home affairs counterpart Malusis Gigaba in the "coming weeks.
"Speaking at a Wesgro 2019 Financial Year Forecast launch, Hanekom says visa issues would be top priority in coming months, with a positive outcome expected as he believes he has the support of Ramaphosa in prioritising the issue.
Added to this, Gigaba's tenure as Finance Minister has undoubtedly given him insight into South Africa's economy, "knowing very well that unless we do all sorts of smart things, we are not going to get economic growth."