When it comes to making it easier for key markets to visit South Africa as well as concluding key travel business deals, the "proof is in the doing", says Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom.
Speaking to Traveller24 over the weekend after Indaba 2018 took place in Durban, Hanekom says he remains positive about tourism's potential.
“Indaba was really excellent, having spent four days there and meeting with eight African ministers and one deputy, it was packed with a good turnout.”
UPDATE: #Indaba2018: Responsible tourism stokes heated debate in Durban
In total 22 African countries were exhibited, with a total of 1 120 exhibitors representing “thousands of African products, along with 135 small businesses or hidden gems – who were incredibly enthusiastic to be on the same floor as the bigger businesses, says Hanekom. There were also an estimated 1 740 buyers at the event.
“Between my many meetings, I covered most of the hidden gems and those in attendance were excited about being there, the networking opportunities as well as the marketing exposure.“ While Hanekom would not divulge specifics of who he spoke to he did say, “People who had previously been negative about the event have turned around."
“People enjoy being there and interacting with each other, Indaba is a vibey thing and the diversity of the exhibitors and buyers gave it a flavour that it has not had in the past.”
But what has not been so positive has been the impact of reciprocal visas on certain countries, with Hanekom expressing concern about a significant drop in travel from Nigeria and New Zealand.
“We’re not making it easy for people to come to South African and it is no surprise that tourism from Nigeria has declined and quite significantly.”
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Following Hanekom's return to the helm of tourism earlier in February, he has made no bones about the urgency within the industry to correct some of SA's visa changes that have had unintended, and somewhat punitive ramifications.
While Hanekom was unable to confirm about the easing visa requirements for Kenyans, as reported by some media, he did say he was confident that no further action would be taken against countries who have imposed visa restrictions for South African citizens.
Hanekom said he had had a preliminary meeting with his Department of Home Affairs counterpart Malusi Gigaba, who has acknowledged that the "reciprocal visas processes was not in the best interest of SA".
In April 2017 Russia and South Africa instituted reciprocal visas on arrival for citizens of both countries. This has seen 50% increase in arrivals.
In contrast, New Zealand clamped down on SA citizens visa free status to the country, with the Department of Home Affairs responding by instituting visa requirements for Kiwi travellers to SA in November 2016. The result has been a 17% drop in travellers to SA from New Zealand. No percentages in the drop for Nigeria were immediately available.
'Ease visa access for top SA source markets'
However, he did confirm the DHA is looking to ease visa access for top SA source markets including the likes of Nigeria, if its citizens already have a valid visa approved for the US, UK, Canada and Australia.
This he says is a short-term win as the government looks to roll out its eVisas pilots in Q4 this year. The DHA has previously confirmed that it would start with the ePermit pilot in the last quarter of the next financial year by 31st March 2019.
Hanekom says it is difficult to give a time-frame for implementation.READ MORE: SA e-visas prioritised as sticky ease of access continues to hamper tourism growth
The DHA is currently looking to implement a good verification process he says, "While passports are still difficult to forge, visas are not. As soon as they have a reliable way to verify the visa it will be implemented."
"Moving in the direction of online visas is first prize, but at least with this a significant amount of people who already have those visas would be able to come to South Africa."
Other key issues placed on the agenda for official discussion during the preliminary meeting with the Gigaba included scrapping the unabridged birth certificate requirement and the implementation of the strong advisory as concluded by the standing committee, as well as the issue of so-called swallows needing to return home in order to renew their visas after three months.
"Post this preliminary meeting our two departments are going to meet frequently and give more report backs. I feel very positive, but at the end of the day the proof is in the doing."