South Africa’s tourism SMEs haunted by xenophobia, new visa regulations

Research shows that Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban’s affordable hotels and guesthouses which are frequently used by African foreigners when they visit South Africa, have been experiencing a decrease in revenue, as black tourists stay away for fear of being attacked and killed by locals.

“We have put our expansion plans on hold as our main source of revenue is fading away,” hotel manager Arthur Dlamini said.

“We are struggling because the Africans are not coming, and who knows they might not come back again. This damn xenophobia has damaged our business,” a frustrated Dlamini added.

‘Africans’ not welcomed

South Africans – black and white – use the word ‘Africans’ to refer to blacks of other African countries, a derogatory term commentators believe reinforces the perception that the other people, non-South Africans, are the invaders and that they should be kicked out.   

A total of seven black Africans, including two South Africans, have been killed in April 2015 when locals went on the rampage, attacking, raping, maiming and burning alive black African foreigners, who they accuse of stealing their jobs, business opportunities and women, and bringing crime and Aids into their country.

The attacks were apparently promoted by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini’s silly remarks about black foreigners.

In Yeoville, a cosmopolitan suburb of Johannesburg mainly populated by foreigners, guesthouses and restaurants owned by Nigerians, Congolese and Zimbabweans are suffering the same fate, as many of their countrymen, whom they accommodate at ‘patriotic’ rates, have vowed not to set foot again in South Africa.  “Business is bad, very bad. Come and see for yourself how the rooms are empty.

This is the time of the year that our guests come in numbers but it has been like this in the aftermath of the xenophobic attacks.

What kind a country is this and how are we going to pay taxes?” barks a Nigerian boss, who did not even bother to identify himself.

Tour operator Mohammed Abdallah, who said his business has been badly affected since the xenophobic attacks, said he was thinking of stopping the operations and doing something else.  ‘Most of my customers are African visitors from wealthy families and I have invested a lot to establish that base, and now it’s all gone,” Abdallah said.

New visa regulations blunder

As if the xenophobic attacks were not enough to hurt the tourism industry, in mid-2015 the South African government promulgated a set of new visa regulations, which the home affairs ministry said were in the best interests of the country’s security.

But the new regulations, which caused a terrible uproar and were described in certain quarters as ‘tough’, ridicule’, and ‘xenophobic’, produced a counterproductive effect, piling up more misery on the tourism sector.

“That is the biggest blunder the Zuma administration has ever made during its 10-year rule, and it will always be remembered by the industry,’ one tourism ministry source said.

A Johannesburg lodge owner, who claims to have been facilitating the granting of tourist visas to his countrymen through his contacts abroad, said it was not business as usual. ‘The new visa regulations have all but decimated a good system that was cutting the interminable red tape and speeding up the process,” he said miserably.

“Tourist visas are now a rare and expensive commodity for our guests, and even medical visas are now difficult to get. We are disappointed,” the man said.

“It shows the level of irresponsibility of the Zuma government, a bunch of rich men and women who don’t care about the plight of their people and small businesses,’ he added.

New amendments to visa regulations, so what?

In the face of such harsh criticism and uproar, the SA government, which has admitted to a drop in the number of foreign visitors since June 2015, has agreed to make some amendments to the visa regulations.

While the industry has welcomed the amendments to the new visa regulations, it however said that the damage has already been done. “It will take some time for the industry to recover both from the xenophobia catastrophe and tough new visa regulations,” an insider said.

The South African tourism industry is due to shed some 9 300 jobs this year, resulting to the total net loss of R4.1 billion (about US$380 million) to the GDP, a Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) report has predicted.

And a survey conducted by Grant Thornton has also revealed that the country will receive 100 000 fewer overseas tourists this year.

“So now what? Should we call all the foreign visitors one by one and tell them that the xenophobia is over and that they can pack their bags and run to the embassies to have their visas delivered in one day. Isn’t that what they are implying?” τ

January 2016
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