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South African tourism damaged by new visa rules: minister

29 July 2015, 14:56

Johannesburg - South Africa's new visa regulations have badly hurt the country's key tourism sector, a government minister said Wednesday, as visitors dry up from key markets such China.

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said figures for the first quarter of the year showed a "worrying drop" since a series of stringent regulations were imposed in an attempt to tackle child trafficking.

"The fact is there has been a considerable drop in tourism.... it is a worrying drop," Hanekom told Radio 702.

According to Statistic South Africa, the official statistics agency, tourists from China decreased by 38 percent in the first quarter compared to the previous period in 2014. India was down by 13 percent.

Overall tourist arrivals fell six percent, the biggest decline since 2009.

Part of the regulations demand that visitors apply in person for visas at South African embassies to have their biometric information captured.

Children are also required to have unabridged birth certificates in addition to their passports when entering or leaving the country, creating widespread confusion.

"Trafficking is a problem, it (the number) probably was exaggerated," Hanekom said.

Several tourism industry players have warned that the new laws pose a major risk to the sector, which contributes 9.5 percent to the country's GDP and provides 10 percent to the country's employment.

The Department of Home Affairs has maintained that the regulations will remain in place, despite the outcry.

South Africa is one of the leading tourism destinations in Africa, with officials aiming to attract 12 million international tourists by 2018.

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