Southern Africa lags in global visa openness – report 21 Jan 2016

Southern Africa’s visa openness registered 29%, compared with a global average of 39%, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Visa Openness Report. The figure indicates the percentage of the world’s population that can travel to a destination without obtaining a traditional visa prior to departure. At present, 71% of the world’s population require a visa prior to travelling to Southern Africa.

The UNWTO report stated that emerging economies continued to be more open compared with advanced economies: South-East Asia recorded an openness score of 51%; East Africa, 48%; and the Caribbean and Oceania recorded 43%. The most restrictive sub-regions include Central Africa at 5%; North Africa at 16%; and North America 15%. The Americas recorded an openness score of 37%, while Europe recorded 24%.

David Frost, SATSA CEO, said South Africa should improve its visa regime and look to develop reciprocal relationships with countries. “South Africa must also credit travellers who have been through more rigorous visa processes, such as applying for and receiving a US or Schengen visa, and allow those travellers in more easily.”

Ross Kennedy, Chief Executive at Africa Albida Tourism, and Onne Vegter, Director at Wild Wings Safaris, said there was huge potential for African countries to advance travel facilitation as a means to promote tourism. Vegter said South Africa especially could benefit greatly from visa openness. He argues that an open visa policy would allow more economic growth and job creation as a result of increased tourism from key source markets.

UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, argued that security challenges should not be a deterrent to advancing visa facilitation. “On the contrary, enhancing security and facilitating tourism travel should always go hand in hand.” Vegter echoed this sentiment. “Even though security is important and illegal immigration remains a valid concern, a rigid or unnecessarily harsh visa policy does far more harm than good,” he said.

Frost agreed and said visas were an impediment to tourists and the more South Africa could do to reduce this, the better. He added that South Africa could learn from India. Even though the country had fallen victim to terror attacks, India had opened its borders by implementing an eVisa programme and was creating visas on arrival for about 32 countries.

Other Southern African countries appear to be making strides towards visa openness. Kennedy said the arrival of the KAZA UniVisa, which could later become an SADC UniVisa, would create positive, user-friendly engagement with travellers to Southern Africa.

“In Zimbabwe, we are aware that government is reviewing its visa regime, whereby it is hoped that a number of countries requiring a visa on arrival will be reviewed to ‘no visa required’ and further countries requiring a visa prior to travel will be moved to ‘visas on arrival’,” said Kennedy.

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