Michael Tollman. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Michael Tollman. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

THE Department of Home Affairs’ "draconian" regulations for foreign tourists have led to a drop in numbers from key markets such as China and India, the Southern African Tourism Services Association (Satsa) says.

Last year, home affairs said foreign visitors would have to appear in person to apply for visas to have biometrics taken. Parents and guardians travelling with minors would have to have unabridged birth certificates for children under 18, showing the names of both parents. Minors travelling with one parent must have an affidavit of consent from the absent parent.

In September to December last year, the number of tourists from China fell nearly 50% and those from India were down 15% year on year. Tourist numbers from Brazil fell 37%, but this was largely due to concern about the Ebola virus, Satsa said.

Satsa CEO David Frost said the regulations were "totally draconian" and "out of kilter" with the rest of the world. Anxiety about the regulations had caused the drop in tourist numbers, he said.

"Tourism is a highly competitive sector because you compete with every country in the world. China and India are the two fastest-growing markets and we should be looking at what we can do to make it easier for them to come into the country."

Cullinan Group chairman Michael Tollman said China’s tourism industry had dropped SA from its marketing because of the "unfriendly" visa regulations. This had resulted in big declines in tourists.

"To support tourism to a country, it first has to be marketed in order to sell it to the public. These activities are expensive," Mr Tollman said. "And if you are selling a product, you put countries first that are making it easier to obtain a visa rather than those making it close to impossible."

Chinese tourists often travelled at short notice and it was important for them to get visas quickly, he said. Competitor countries, such as Zimbabwe, offered Chinese travellers visas on arrival.

Home affairs spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete said the requirement for tourists to apply for visas in person would remain.