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93% Surge in Mainlanders Visiting South Africa Follows Visa Overhaul

South Africa repeals disastrous visa requirement regime after visitor numbers tumble throughout the course of 2016.

Photo: South African wildlife: Missed by most mainlanders since October 2014.
South African wildlife: Missed by most mainlanders since October 2014.
Photo: South African wildlife: Missed by most mainlanders since October 2014.
South African wildlife: Missed by most mainlanders since October 2014.

South Africa is reporting an upsurge in the number of Chinese tourists and business travellers visiting the country following an easing of visa requirements as of the end of 2015. According to the latest figures from South Africa's Department of Tourism, there had been a 60% year-on-year increase in the total number of mainland visitors by the end of August. While outward bound travellers from China account for by far the largest increase in visitor numbers, there has also been an overall 15% increase in arrivals across the board.

With more than 120 million of its residents venturing abroad in 2015, China is now the world's leading source of outbound tourists. As such, it is seen as a crucial market for South Africa, with the tourist trade hugely important to the country's economy.

In 2015, visitor numbers dropped dramatically following changes to the visa application process introduced in October 2014.These changes obliged would-be visitors to South Africa to apply for visas in person at one of the country's embassies or at designated visa-processing centres, ensuring that the required biometric data could be captured. Visitors also planning to bring children with them were additionally required to produce unabridged birth certificates – a move intended to counter child trafficking, a growing problem in the country.

These new regulations effectively crippled the country's tourism industry, with mainland visitor numbers particularly hard hit. A year on from the introduction of these more stringent requirements and the number of Chinese tourists visiting South Africa had dropped by more than 50%.

Aggressive lobbying by tourism industry bodies led to the Department of Home Affairs amending the new requirements at the end of 2015. As a result, visa centres have now been established at the various ports of entry, allowing tourists' biometric data to be captured upon arrival. The requirement for unabridged birth certificates has also been moderated. As a consequence, the number of Chinese tourists arriving in January was up by a staggering 93% year-on-year.

In a bid to further swell visitor numbers, South Africa has launched a charm offensive specifically targetting mainland tourists. This saw Derek Hanekom, South Africa's Tourism Minister, visiting China to promote the relaxation of the visa requirements and to emphasise the welcome that awaits mainland visitors.

In a bid to woo more Chinese visitors, South Africa is now said to be considering the introduction of multiple-entry visas, with durations of between three months and three years. There is also a move to, ultimately, waive any visa requirement for all Chinese nationals. No formal timeframe for such a move to be implemented has been announced, however. Should such changes come to pass, they are certain to prove a boon for mainland and Hong Kong tour operators and travel-management companies.

Mark Ronan, Special Correspondent, Cape Town

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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