Southern Africa improves on visa openness

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke
HARARE – Southern Africa has been ranked the third most open sub-region on the African continent which allows the highest number of the world’s population into its countries without any visa  restrictions.The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) 2015 Visa Openness Report released last week shows that 29 percent of visitors travelling to the sub-region do not need to have a visa. However, 71 percent of the world’s population need traditional visas to visit countries in Southern Africa and none can access a visa on arrival or an eVisa.

The report states that Southern African destinations have also facilitated travel for citizens from Northern and Western European citizens. Subsequently, the citizens from these two sub-regions do not require visas when travelling to Southern Africa in 2015.

The SADC region has been taking measures to promote tourism in the region through the introduction of a Uni-Visa which would introduce a smooth entry for regional and international visitors, especially within trans-frontier conservation areas.

But there have been a number of issues that have stalled the progress of the Uni-Visa since the SADC protocol on the development of tourism signed in 1998.
However, Angola, Zimbabwe and Zambia officially launched the Kavango-Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area (Kaza) uni-visa in November 2014 marking the first phase of a four-staged process that will eventually result in introduction of the SADC UNI-Visa.

For such efforts to work, countries need to encourage the use of the eVisa and visa on arrival to make travel smoother for visitors.

But the UNWTO reports shows that none of the southern African states has implemented the e-visa and only a few states offer visas upon arrival, in contrast to East Africa, which launched a uni-visa for Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda in 2014 .

East Africa, together with South-East Asia, has also remained the most open sub-regions in the world because of the large number of visa on arrival (52 percent of the world’s population in average) and the considerable number of visa exemptions (7 percent) and eVisa alternatives (9 percent). Only 33 percent of visitors need a traditional visa.

When travelling to West Africa, 56 percent of the world’s population need a traditional visa while 6 percent does not need a visa. UNWTO says that about 32 percent of visitors get visas on arrival while 7 percent are able to access an eVisa.

Central and North Africa have the least rankings on visa openness with 84 percent and 92 percent of the world’s population needing a traditional visa to visit the sub-regions respectively. About 1 percent and 16 percent of the population do not need visas to enter the regions while 7 percent can get an eVisa to visit Central Africa. Both sub-regions offer no visas on arrival and North Africa does not offer eVisa for visitors.

The report notes that Africa, Asia and Pacific had the most advances in visa facilitation between 2010 and 2015.

“East and West Africa made important changes by replacing traditional visa with visa on arrival,” the UNWTO said.

A total of 54 destinations significantly facilitated the visa process for citizens of 30 or more countries by changing their visa policies from “traditional visa” to either “eVisa”, “visa on arrival” or “no visa required”.

In the top 30 countries to have made major efforts to reduce travel restrictions and allow free movement of tourists, Mozambique, which was at number seven with 189 improvements was the top  ranked African country with  Guinea-Bissau, Togo, Cape Verde, Rwanda,  Mali, Mauritania, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania also among top African  reformers.

While figures vary significantly across sub-regions, Africa requires a traditional visa prior to departure from 57 percent of the world’s population, but, at the same time, continues to have the highest percentage of countries whose visitors are able to obtain a visa on arrival (28 percent).

UNWTO said international tourist arrivals in the emerging-economy destinations of Asia, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, Eastern Mediterranean Europe, the Middle East, and Africa will grow at double the pace (4,4 percent a year) of advanced economy destinations (2,2 percent a year).

February 2016
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