The 2015 Africa Tourism Monitor has uncovered that visa simplification schemes have the potential to further boost tourism revenue and job creation by between 5% and 25%, and thus far supporting visa facilitation initiatives, including e-visa and regional visa cooperation, have already led to immense economic benefits for countries that have adopted this approach.
This revelation comes at a time when SADC states are preparing to expand the KAZA (Kavango Zambezi) visa, a common tourist visa developed by Zambia and Zimbabwe, which has been identified as the first step towards a SADC uni-visa.
The Tourism Monitor published by the African Development Bank (AfDB), further indicates that the continental tourism sector is growing. The report attributes this growth to various initiatives aimed at boosting the industry which include the simplification of visa systems and regional cooperation mechanisms through the KAZA visa and East African Community (EAC) uni-visa.
According to the report the African tourism sector grew by 4% in 2014, making it the second fastest- growing tourist destination (Southeast Asia grew by 6%). In 2014, a total of 65.3 million international tourists visited the continent, which is a significant leap from the 17.4million that visited the continent in 1990.
Among the top five African countries for tourist arrivals were two SADC states South Africa in 3rd place and Zimbabwe in 5th place while Botswana topped Lonely Planet’s list of best places to visit in 2016, beating out countries such as The United States of America and Japan for first place.
The report links the growth of the tourism sector to visa facilitation initiatives such as the EAC single visa, which was launched in February 2014, engaging Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. The same year saw an increase in Uganda and Rwanda’s tourism receipts by 12% and 8% respectively.
Another uni-visa success story is the KAZA Visa which grew out of the 1998 SADC Protocol on the Development of Tourism.
The visa was launched in November 2014, and ran through May 2015 as a pilot project under a World Bank grant of US$900,000 and positive reports on economic indicators related to the project are anticipated to follow.
Article 5.1 c of the SADC Protocol on the Development of Tourism states that Member States shall endeavour to make entry and travel of visitors as smooth as possible and shall remove practises likely to place obstacles to the development of tourism both regional and international by… having a tourism visa which will facilitate movement of international tourists in the region in order to increase the market share and revenue of the region in world tourism on the basis of arrangements to be negotiated and agreed upon by member states.
The KAZA Visa for tourists between Zambia and Zimbabwe has been touted as the first stage towards this envisioned SADC uni-visa. The second phase of the project, will see the visa’s extension to the other three KAZA states (Namibia, Botswana and Angola) while the next stage will include pilot SADC states (Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland). The fourth and final phase will see the visa’s expansion into the remaining SADC states.
Speaking at the re-launch of Somalisa Camp, in Hwange National Park this year, Zimbabwean Minister of Tourism, Dr Walter Mzembi, indicated that the visa will now be extended to the second phase with the hope that final phase will be completed by the end of 2018.
Despite these intentions, many analysts have argued that there has been a lack of progress in the introduction of the uni-visa as the idea was first mooted in 1998 with an initial operational date set for 2002.
A case study into the lack of progress by the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) highlighted that among the key issues of concern that have led to this delay are safety and security concerns, as well as a lack of bureaucratic co-operation in the region.
The study further elaborated that the South African government, in particular, is concerned about security issues as a result of an influx of illegal immigrants.
South Africa recently underwent an extreme overhaul of its visa application processes, which has led to tighter security requirements such as biometric data for all visa applications and unabridged birth certificates for children in a bid to limit the movement of terrorists and child traffickers.
In addition to security concerns SAIIA researchers argue that a regional uni-visa will require extensive co-operation among neighbouring countries at various bureaucratic levels, including revenue authorities, embassies and border control, and within regional policing efforts, and thus far, bureaucratic co-operation in SADC has been weak.
The report concludes that “though the benefits of tourism are clear, civil servants stationed at embassies and within the home affairs departments that manage and implement visas have had little or no exposure to the benefits of tourism and their primary concern is safety and security.”
Despite these challenges South African Home Affairs spokesperson, Mayihlome Tshwete, insists that the idea of a regional uni-visa is still “very much alive and negotiations between SADC states were continuing.”
Speaking in response to the SAIIA report he highlighted that one of the main issues still to be sorted out, is how to share the revenue derived from visas, which is an important source of income for some countries.
He further added that there is a fear that most tourists would choose Johannesburg as their point of entry.
With the benefits of regional visa facilitation mechanisms clearly articulated by the 2015 Africa Tourism Monitor it remains to seen whether such negotiations will be successfully concluded, and whether the 1998 vision of a SADC uni-visa will finally be realized.
Source: Southern African News