South Africa's tourism industry is applauding the government's decision earlier this month to abolish the requirement for minors travelling to and from the country to carry unabridged birth certificates.
The rule was enacted in 2015 and had a devastating effect on family travel to the country. Numerous stories emerged of families being turned away at the airport as a result of not having the right documentation, and the tourism numbers dropped significantly.
In a recent radio interview, South African home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the requirement had been scrapped in line with president Cyril Ramaphosa's plans to encourage growth in the country.
During the interview, the minister did not go into detail on how soon the controversial rule will be abolished. However, industry leaders from the Tourism Business Council of South African and the Southern African Tourism Services Association (Satsa) say an official announcement is expected soon.
The outright removal of the requirement for foreign minors to present unabridged birth certificates will be a game-changer for inbound tourism to South Africa, according to Satsa. "It has been a long and hard-fought battle to have this requirement removed completely," said David Frost, CEO of Satsa. "Our position from the start has been that this draconian' heavy-handed and nonsensical policy to combat child trafficking has no place in the modern economy. Rather' it should be dealt with through proper policing."
The announcement, Frost said, will go a long way to market South Africa as a preferred family travel destination, but in the face of stagnant tourism arrival figures a lot more work needs to be done on practical solutions and strategies to achieve the lofty ideals that government has for the tourism sector.
Operators were delighted by the lifting of the requirement and are anticipating a boost in the country's appeal, particularly with families.
This change of regulation cannot come quickly enough for the South African tourism industry," said Sean Kritzinger, executive chairman of Giltedge Africa. "It will have such a positive impact on families traveling to visit our country, as we've had a few clients who have been stuck at the airport and turned away, which has ruined their holiday. As soon as the requirement is scrapped, we will need to market the new facts quickly so that we don't have further challenges from countries or airlines who might unknowingly still implement this."
“The [birth certificate] saga earned South Africa a reputation of being difficult and unwelcoming to families," said Pulse Africa founder Sandy Wood. "Once the new regulations have been properly implemented we look forward to South Africa re-establishing itself as Africa’s top family destination."