WE ACKNOWLEDGE that governments everywhere have an obligation towards their citizens to constantly review possible threats and to ensure that every effort is made to protect them.
Since the 9/11 attacks on the US, the travel industry has learnt to adjust the way in which it does business, time and time again, ensuring it and its clients are informed of the myriad rules and regulations that affect their travel plans.
Unintended consequences result but, in most cases, changes to rules and regulations are globally agreed upon and implemented and are communicated effectively to ensure that all parties can prepare and change their behaviour to meet these new requirements.
On May 22, South Africans heard that amendments to the Immigration Act had been passed into law.
Of particular concern to the travel and tourism industry was a new requirement for all children younger than 18 years, exiting or entering the country, to carry a copy of their unabridged birth certificate.
At the time of publication of the amendments, the implementation date was set for July 1, a short five-and-a-half weeks later. Thankfully, following an outcry from the travel and tourism industry at large, the date was pushed back to October 1 — a short three-month reprieve.
While every effort is being made to get the message out, the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata) remains of the opinion that there is insufficient time to educate and inform the public of the new requirements, and for them to prepare to comply with these.
We also doubt that the Department of Home Affairs can meet its obligations in issuing these documents in time to meet the implementation deadline. The Asata office has received reports from its members and the public that the waiting time for an unabridged birth certificate is between eight and 12 months.
I am gravely concerned about the time frames provided for the implementation, the lack of consultation with the sector and the poor communication and execution of the amendments.
We have also yet to see what data and research have informed the government’s decision to introduce a requirement that travellers carry an unabridged birth certificate as an additional travel document.
Our own research has shown that no other country in the world has implemented a similar requirement.
In light of this, we question the effectiveness of this new requirement in meeting the department’s objective to reduce child trafficking.
Surely the only effect it will have is to frustrate and complicate the lives of law-abiding citizens when they wish to travel abroad with their children?
A birth certificate is not a recognised travel document anywhere in the world; passports serve that purpose, with the necessary process behind acquiring one to ensure that it is fit for that purpose.
Finally, what, if any, economic impact studies have been done to fully understand the consequences of these changes?
The South African outbound travel industry directly employs more than 8,000 people and our own studies show that the new ruling may affect up to 21% of all international air travel from SA.
Although we fully support the efforts of the government to secure our borders and to protect our children, please let us be sure that the policies put in place serve that purpose and will not have undue consequences.
Asata will continue to engage with its partners in the travel and tourism industry, and with the relevant authorities, to ensure our members are kept informed and are able to pass on the correct information to their clients.
Travellers should make sure they consult an Asata-registered travel agent when making their travel plans in order to receive the most accurate and up-to-date information.
• De Vries is CEO of Asata and has been working in the travel and tourism industry for the past 26 years.