Tourism’s Troubles

At a time when the economy is bad, South Africa’s potentially lucrative tourism industry is in trouble. It is our own fault. Rather than make the weak Rand work in our favour, Government has imposed a swathe of ludicrous visa requirements that undermine one of the few areas for potential economic growth in the country. The Minister for Tourism, Derek Hanekom, has courageously admitted this in so many words. Will his colleagues listen to him?

You don’t need to be an economist to see this. With the currency substantially weaker than it has been in recent years – having lost 30% against the Dollar, for example – the country should be cashing in on foreign tourism. Overseas tourists can get more holiday for their Dollars, Pounds, Euros or Renminbei than ever before. The result for the country should be increased work (some have suggested up to 500 000 new jobs) for our tourism industry.

Instead, owing to the Department of Home Affairs new regulations – insisting on stricter biometric visa requirements and now unabridged birth certificates for minors – we are seeing a decline in tourism. From the lucrative Chinese market alone we have seen a 38% drop in tourism as a result, not least because all Chinese travellers must go through two consulates in their country. Given that China covers a vast area of landmass and has a population of 1.3 billion people, this is absurd.

Having to scrabble around for birth certificates deters travel to and from South Africa. Tourism is a buyers’ market. Travellers are spoilt for choice. There are many other enticing destinations on the planet. If South Africa is to be attractive it must make itself attractive: making potential visitors jump through successive hoops simply loses us the competitive edge.

We cannot afford this. Our biggest industry – mining – is in trouble. Labour conflict and unreliable power supply is weakening mining, which as a non-renewable resource is also a source of income with a limited life span. Ditto manufacturing. Tourism on the other hand is a renewable resource. Killing tourism is killing the gosling that could become the goose that lays the golden egg.

Home Affairs rationale for these new visa restrictions is prevention of human trafficking, reducing illegal immigration and, one suspects, a kind of tit for tat response to restrictions imposed on South African travellers to other countries. Ultimately, though, this is self-defeating.

Reacting to visa restrictions of other countries, though an understandable kneejerk reaction, is self-defeating: in the current economic climate we need their visitors more than they need us. Beggars can’t be choosers, particularly when our unemployment rate is higher than theirs!

While trying to prevent human trafficking is a noble cause, the policy imposed is misdirected. Most human trafficking in South Africa happens across our porous land borders, not through official ports of entry. So too does illegal immigration.What Home Affairs is doing is a classic example in ethical theory of undermining the good by appealing to the best. In short it is a failure in the exercise of prudence, which Minister Hanekom has commendably noted.

Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.
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