In part 1, Gillian Saunders shared some thoughts on how tourism can boost employment and help strengthen South Africa’s struggling economy. In part 2, she lays out some ideas on how South Africa should restructure its visa system to realise more of its tourism potential. \

South Africa is often near the top on any rankings of most beautiful countries in the world, says Saunders. The country is also ‘underweight’ in many areas of tourism compared with similar nations, and, as a destination, Saunders says South Africa has undisputed competitive advantages.

All this means that there is huge potential for growth. But how does that potential become real? “The biggest growth market opportunities for us are India and China; they are the biggest and fastest growing outbound markets, and are also key markets on the rest of the continent,” says Saunders.

“The first really easy low-hanging fruit is to fast track a world-class online eVisa system. It must handle capacity, be easy to use, documentation requirements must not be onerous and the turn-around time should be quick,” she says, adding that AI algorithms, and not human review, should be used for most visa issuance. “And it must, as soon as possible, have interfaces in multiple languages, especially Mandarin.”

Saunders points out that if other low-income countries, such as Ethiopia and Vietnam, can manage an eVisa system like this, South Africa should be able to as well.

“And while we do that, another quick and immediate win is to recognise other visas like USA, Schengen, Australia, and the UK, the way many other countries do,” she says. “This will open up destination South Africa for many Indian, Chinese, Nigerian, and other visa-requiring markets overnight.”

Saunders says South Africa also needs a review of visa-requiring countries, taking particular account of those with tourism potential, and to drop in its entirety the reciprocity principle.

In July, the Department of Home Offices decided to scrap visa requirements for various countries, including New Zealand. Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Home Affairs, announced the changes at the 2019 Budget Vote. Motsoaledi also announced that Home Affairs would increase the number of staff working for the department by two-and-a-half times to process visas in both India and China. But as Saunders points out, the commitment was made to up the processing capacity “this financial year”, which could mean only by the end of March 2020.