David Frost, CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association. Picture: DAYLIN PAUL
David Frost, CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association. Picture: DAYLIN PAUL

SOUTHERN African Tourism Services Association (Satsa) CEO David Frost on Wednesday accused Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba of going on the fly with foreign arrivals data to convince the public that tourism numbers rose 8% over the festive season.

On Tuesday Mr Gigaba announced that the number of foreign arrivals in SA rose to 2-million over the period December 1-January 7, from 1.8-million a year earlier.

In December it was reported that an average of 10 families a day trying to travel to SA were turned away at Heathrow Airport during the Christmas week.

The Department of Home Affairs has been adamant that its contentious visa requirements would not hurt the tourism sector in SA.

However, Mr Frost said on Thursday that the department’s figures did not and could not tell the whole picture of tourism patterns in the country because they had not been processed.

"It’s highly irresponsible for the minister to come to this conclusion," he said.

Using raw data could lead to significant errors, he said, including not comparing like figures from previous years. This mistake was made once before by the office of the statistician-general, Mr Frost said.

He said Satsa received processed data only in April.

Department of Tourism spokesman Trevor Bloem said the recently released figures appeared to cover "all travellers crossing the border", and not only tourists.

He was reluctant to draw conclusions on their implications for the tourism industry.

"Until we see (more detailed) data we would not want to comment. It appears that one has looked at all travellers crossing the border. We only occupy ourselves with tourists.

"When we publicise our figures we have quarterly and annual figures for a cogent trend to compare with past figures to draw intelligent conclusions from," Mr Bloem said.

Mr Frost said the Department of Tourism’s budget needed an urgent increase because of the rand’s recent performance.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan needed to compel Mr Gigaba to comply with the tourism interministerial committee’s findings that the visa regulations were hurting tourism, he said.

Department of Home Affairs spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete told Business Day that the reports regarding Heathrow Airport were "unsubstantiated and out of context", when asked about the juxtaposition between the reports and the data.

"There is no such situation or incident and they are incapable of verifying such an incident. We find it unfortunate that it is our responsibility to verify an unsubstantiated story. They must verify these reports and they have been unable to," Mr Tshwete said.

He said the Department of Home Affairs would prioritise national security before engaging in debates on tourism data, which were under the auspices of the Department of Tourism.