Namibia believes it can grab a bigger share of the 1.3 billion- person Chinese tourism market, which will be affected by South Africa’s new travel laws aimed at combating child trafficking in that country.
The new South African regulations will come into effect on October 1 and will see children travelling to that country being forced to carry a full unabridged birth certificate, as well as a passport.
A new biometric visa will also be introduced as a requirement for foreigners.
Projections are that South Africa may lose up to 70% of its Chinese tourism market - something which Namibia is hoping to cash in on.
South Africa has already experienced Chinese tour group cancellations, with travel agencies diverting clients to other African nations instead. Hospitality Association of Namibia Chief Executive Officer Gitta Paetzold said Namibia wants to use this as a marketing tool, especially in terms of the Chinese tourism market.
However, there was concern over the fact that Chinese tourists fly to Namibia via Cape Town or Johannesburg.
She said Namibia now needed to develop its own direct routes.
President of the 52 Safari International Hunting Club in Beijing, Scott Lupien, described the new South African regulations as “extremely bad news”.
Speaking to South African website Tourism Update he was quoted as saying: “This new regulation will kill our business to South Africa!”
He said Namibia and Zimbabwe allow tour operators to apply for visas on behalf of their clients, while South Africa seemed to be making things more difficult.
Tourism and Gaming Director at the Ministry of Tourism Sem Shikongo confirmed that Namibia’s tourism stakeholders had attended a meeting earlier this week about the new South African travel laws and that there were concerns raised about the impacts.
Shikongo said they are still consulting about how to address the issues raised and that talks are
SADC tourism experts have warned about decreasing tourism numbers and its financial implications.
Fears include that airlines may also be forced to reduce schedules or even withdraw services due to the financial impact.
The World Travel Agents Association Alliance (WTAAA), which services 75% of the global travelling community, made up of Europe, India, Canada, America, New Zealand and Brazil, said it has received no formal communication about the new South African travel laws.
Paetzold said the Namibian tourism industry is divided over the impacts and had expressed this in the stakeholder meeting.
“Some felt it will have a major impact, while others were of the opinion that the market will not be affected that much. The affects on Namibia does not seem to be as bad it was made out to be.”
She said not everybody travels through a tour operator and there were concerns raised that families or people travelling alone will not be informed about what to do.
She said the training of local immigration staff seemed to be a major concern.
Regionally, it has also been predicted that South Africa’s new immigration regulations will cause a drop in tourist numbers in SADC.
It is expected that 21% of all international travellers arriving by air will be affected.
Estimates are that about 270 000 fewer international tourists will travel to South Africa per year, costing that country about N$10 billion.
The Tourism Business Council of South Africa said in a press statement that the regulations will have a significant detrimental impact on tourism, not only to South Africa, but also to the neighbouring countries, whose tourism activities are linked to South Africa.
The international airline community serving South Africa has called the new travel regulations “a tourism, PR (public relations), economic and political disaster”.
About 20 airlines that fly to South Africa are forecasting travel chaos, saying the new rules will undoubtedly result in trip cancellations and unnecessary expenses for families.
They said losses in tourism revenue could force airlines to reduce schedules or even withdraw their services.
British Airways said it is concerned about declining tourism numbers, particularly holidaymakers, who may choose to switch to other destinations.
SA Home Affairs
Namibian Sun sent a list of questions to the South African Ministry of Home Affairs last Tuesday relating to the impact the new travel laws will have on Namibia.
It acknowledged receipt of the questions, but asked for more time to compile the response.
The questions included whether the South African ministry has been in contact with its Namibian counterpart about the new regulations and how it is planning to mitigate the impacts on its neighbours, including the Land of the Brave.
According to Namibia’s latest Tourism Exist Survey, the four largest market arrivals to Namibia are South Africa (28.3%), Germany 7.7% the United Kingdom 1.9% and the United States 1.6%.
The survey also showed that the preferred airlines for exiting Namibia were in fact SAA and SA Express, with 53% of travellers using their services, while 36% use Air Namibia and other airlines.
The Namibian Tourism Board (NTB) recently said the majority of self-drive tourists to Namibia are from South Africa and are mostly families with children, which would mean the new travel laws will impact on their border crossings.
The NTB is concerned that these tourists will now opt to travel inside their own country, rather than deal with the hassle of the new travel laws.
Ellanie Smit: Namibian Sun