IT WILL take the tourism industry four to five years to recover from the damage to South Africa’s reputation caused by the Department of Home Affairs’ immigration regulations, Tourism Business Council of South Africa CEO Mmatati Ramawela says.

But her organisation has welcomed the regulatory concessions announced by the department. These include waiving the requirement for Chinese travellers to apply for a visa in person as long as they are part of a tour group.

The department’s director-general, Mkuseli Apleni, says that a 10-year visa waiver for business executives from Brics countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) is also available, allowing such executives to remain in South Africa for 30 days at a time.

The department has also attempted to address problems with the new requirement for unabridged birth certificates. It has developed a template for school principals to issue letters confirming permission for children to travel on school tours.

It has also extended the validity of the parental consent affidavit from four to six months, and will print parents’ details on their children’s passports so they do not have to carry birth certificates.

Last year, a South African government interministerial committee considered the concerns of stakeholders, particularly the tourism sector, and recommended that the department make some compromises.

The visa regime, which critics had described as onerous, required prospective visitors to have their biometric data captured at a visa centre and parents travelling with minors to be in possession of a certified unabridged birth certificate, as well as a letter of consent, in cases where a child was travelling with one parent or a relative.

"We (the industry) want to commend the department and the government. They’ve heard what we’ve been saying about the impact of (immigration regulations) on the industry," Ms Ramawela said.

However, she said the concessions could not be regarded as a "quick fix". The industry had been battered by a weak economy and the impact of the regulations compounded that. Tourism businesses now had to convince the leisure traveller market that things had changed.

Ms Ramawela said the department still needed to clarify what documents parents and guardians needed to carry. This was unclear for those from visa-exempt countries. Printing the details of parents directly on to their childrens’ passports was a step in the right direction.

© BDlive 2016