By Phindile Makwakwa
THE long-awaited introduction of hassle-free world-class electronic visas is going to give the South African tourism industry a phenomenal and extremely welcome boost. What’s more, the e-visa, an alternative to a traditional visa endorsed in your passport before you travel to the country, is going to be given the highest priority, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in his recent State of the Nation address.
E-visas will save tourists time and money, improve security, ease congestion at the country’s border posts and make South Africa a more appealing leisure and business destination.
The president’s announcement followed another by the Department of Home Affairs last year which revealed that the e-visa system would likely be piloted in New Zealand. Once it was stable it would be gradually rolled out to other countries.
Concerted efforts to market South Africa as a tourist destination have reaped rewards and the country welcomed a record 10 million visitors last year, a target that the industry had long strived to achieve. Delegates at Durban’s annual Africa’s Travel Indaba tourism trade show have regularly pointed to the costly inconvenience of the traditional visa system.
Applications for e-visas can be done online with the supporting documents submitted and payment done online and once approved, the decision is communicated online. The e-visa can then be printed out and presented at the South African port of entry.
The turnaround time for getting a visa is cut, and the applicants’ information is secure.
In another move to improve efficiency, it has also been announced that South Africa will be introducing e-gates at OR Tambo, Cape Town and King Shaka International Airports this year. According to Home Affairs, it will allow returning South African citizens and categories of travellers to be processed electronically.
The biometrics capturing system already operates at OR Tambo, King Shaka, Lanseria and Cape Town international airports and at the six busiest land ports of Beit Bridge, Lebombo, Ficksburg, Maseru Bridge, Oshoek and Kopfontein.
World Travel & Tourism Council president Gloria Guevara Manzo has said the implementation of biometrics was the single biggest opportunity for the travel and tourism sector.
Phindile Makwakwa is acting chief executive of Tourism KZN