'Visa laws have cost tourism R1.6bn'
South Africa has lost about R1.6-billion in direct spending from overseas tourists - the worst decline in more than two decades - according to a report by accounting company Grant Thornton. The company based its findings on tourist figures from the first three months of this year.The drop in tourism follows new legislation that demands tourists must apply in person at South African embassies abroad as well as have their biometric data captured before being granted a visa.Parents travelling in or out of the country with children who are 17 or younger must produce an unabridged birth certificate showing both parents' details.The visa section of the act came into effect in October while the unabridged birth legislation came into effect last month.Tourism experts have slammed the regulations as potentially crippling to the economy.A report released by Tourism Business Council of South Africa in April also showed a decrease in tourism.Overseas and local tour operator newsletter SA Tourism Update reported earlier this week that neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique were also feeling the impact of the decline, which they attributed to the new immigration regulations.Grant Thornton advisory services director Lee-Anne Bac said the country had shown a loss of 1600 tourists - or four jumbo jets - per day.She said: "The 6% decline recorded in foreign tourist arrivals equates to a loss of 150000 tourists when compared to the same period recorded last year. We have never seen such dire levels of decline in the last 21 years of our tourism history."Bac attributed the decline to several factors, including the Ebola pandemic in West Africa and South Africa's new immigration regulations.She warned: "There will most definitely also be job losses especially in niche tourism operators that focus on specific foreign markets."Port Elizabeth tourism specialist Peter Myles said: "The more difficult it is to get from one destination to another means the more likely it is that tourists will select another destination and there are many choices."Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment World general manager Brett Hoppé said: "Sun International's 12 months forward bookings show that inbound tourists from China and India are 70% down."