South African Tourism Minister proposes Visa easing to attract Chinese and Indian visitors

South Africa’s Tourism Minister, Patricia de Lille, is advocating for the relaxation or elimination of visa requirements for Chinese and Indian nationals to boost tourism from these populous nations. With a focus on improving regulations, visa processes, and air access, the government aims to combat high unemployment rates by promoting tourism. De Lille’s goal is to attract 10 million visitors by March and 15 million by 2030. While challenges persist, her efforts to enhance safety measures and promote South Africa as a tourist destination are underway, including discussions with Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi regarding visa waivers for Chinese and Indian visitors.

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South African Visa Waiver Sought for Chinese, Indian Nationals

By Mike Cohen and Paul Vecchiatto

South Africa’s tourism minister is pushing for visa requirements to be eased or waived for Chinese and Indian nationals to boost visitor numbers from the world’s most populous nations. 

“Visas are a problem,” Patricia de Lille, who was appointed to her post in March, said in an interview in Bloomberg’s Cape Town office on Thursday. “I see my role as dealing with regulations, the visa issues, regulations around tour operating licenses and then, air access, getting more flights to come to South Africa.”

Patricia De Lille

The government has identified the development of the tourism industry as key to reducing a 33% unemployment rate, but has long faced criticism that it makes it too difficult to enter the country. 

The visa system is overseen by Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who acknowledges its deficiencies, but complains that he lacks the staff and budget to fix it. An online visa system that’s available in about 34 countries doesn’t work properly and while some qualification requirements have been dropped, including the submission of bank statements, security screening continues to result in delays. 

De Lille was tasked with attracting at least 10 million visitors in the year through March, the same as before the global pandemic struck, and is targeting 15 million by 2030. That’s down from a previous goal of 21 million, a revision necessitated by changing global travel patterns.

 De Lille said she intends to meet with Motsoaledi ahead of a visit to Beijing next month to discuss whether visas can be waived for Chinese and Indian visitors for limited-duration stays, a concession already extended to those from Brazil, Russia, the US and UK. 

The US, UK and Germany account for the largest number of non-African visitors to South Africa, but arrivals from China and India are surging and can rise further if visa rules are eased, the minister said.

“It’s work in progress, but you have to consider the mandate” of other government departments and ministries in dealing with the visa issue, she said. 

Safety Measures

De Lille’s department is also working to ensure visitors remain safe following a series of attacks that have scarred the country’s international reputation. It has allocated 174 million rand ($9.2 million) to train 2,300 safety monitors, who will be deployed from December to help secure 59 key locations, including national parks and airports.  

The tourism industry has meanwhile invested in a mobile-phone application that will enable visitors to summon help from private security companies and the police at the push of a button if they are attacked. Companies are also helping patrol roads leading to the Kruger National Park, the country’s biggest wildlife reserve, because the police don’t have the capacity.  

“Let me assure you that 99% of tourists that come to South Africa go back home safely,” De Lille said. “You can never really stop these crooks, they are always one step ahead of you, so it’s best to warn people” which areas to avoid and ensure they are well informed about potential dangers, she said.  

De Lille heads the Good party, and is the only opposition leader in the cabinet. While she said she serves at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s pleasure, she’s willing to be reappointed after next year’s election if asked. 

She declined to say whether her party would consider entering into an alliance with the ruling African National Congress should its support drop below 50%, as some polls suggest, saying a decision will likely only be taken after the vote.  

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© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.