By Stephen Nielsen, sales and marketing director of Kiboko Adventures
I have just returned from a sales trip to Australia and New Zealand. I saw first-hand the damage the new visa requirement for New Zealand citizens is having and will continue to have on our industry. With one of our main wholesalers I visited four travel agencies in Auckland. As I entered the shop the first comment was not “Wow, great to see you” BUT “Why the new visa?”. It was hard to answer and impossible to justify. They had all in the space of two weeks had clients walk into their shops saying “South Africa is my first destination of choice but find me somewhere else to go to now as I cannot fly to Wellington to get a visa”. Potential visitors to South Africa (and of course, therefore, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Zambia) are being lost on a daily basis. This is just what I saw in three days of being there, so imagine what is going on in the rest of the country.
People said they just could not take two days off work, take kids out of school for two days, pay the cost of flights to Wellington and pay for one, maybe two nights’ hotel accommodation just to get a visa. It is far easier and cheaper just to find somewhere else to go.
The visa is not the issue even if it is ridiculous. It is the way it has to be done. For any other country you apply online and people have no issue doing this as they understand it is usually reciprocal.
WHY is South Africa so special at making life so difficult for people who want to come here – there is just no logical thought process that has gone into this!
One company had a NZD40 000 (€27 500) booking in place and the clients had already asked what the cancellation fees were as they were not prepared for the costs and hassle of travelling to Wellington.
The consulate in Wellington cannot cope – the phone just rings and one waits days for any reply to emails – not their fault at all as this was just dumped on their heads from Pretoria. In 2016 apparently they processed about 150 visas for non-New Zealand citizens living in New Zealand and travelling to South Africa. SA stats say about 15 500 New Zealanders travelled to South Africa in 2016. Simple maths tells us that it will be physically impossible for the office to process visas now for that number of people. The office is only open for visas from 09h00-12h00 every day on a first-come, first-served basis!
On top of this we will now also lose all the kiwis living in Australia and elsewhere in the world as there is no way they will travel back home just to get a visa.
SA Tourism and SAA sponsor a roadshow in New Zealand and over many years have spent a lot of money growing this small but very adventurous and travel-savvy market. It is finally paying off for South Africa.
To my knowledge these are both government departments or entities – so all their money and hard work are now going down the drain because of their colleague in Home Affairs.
The agents all said that with bad publicity and word of mouth this market will be killed off very quickly and would take years of hard work to re-establish it.
Is this really what Home Affairs wants to do? We are desperate for as many travellers to visit South Africa as possible to create more jobs and let them spend their hard cash in the country to grow our economy. We don’t care where they come from but we do care if they stop coming.
The agents in New Zealand’s business will suffer but in the end they will still get the booking for the clients to go to another destination. Their life will move on.
My business will suffer but the ultimate loser in this mess is the poor worker at the hotels and tourism establishments as they will lose their jobs.
SA Tourism, Satsa and our Minister of Tourism have to put pressure on Home Affairs and the government to sort out this mess ASAP before it is too late. Just change the way the visa is applied for – we are in the modern world now where things get done online.
We can only tell the facts – we are not in a position to solve the problem – they are!