The number of foreign visitors to South Africa increased by 7.6% year-on-year over the festive season to some two-million between December 1 and January 7, according to figures released by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) on Tuesday.
Addressing a media briefing in Johannesburg, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba told journalists that the number of overall travellers – comprising those both arriving and departing the country – increased by 5.3% on the prior year’s festive period to 5.39-million.
Of this number, 1.48-million were citizens, while 3.9-million were foreign nationals.
This upward trend was also seen in terms of arrivals from various international regions, with a 4.9% increase in the number of African visitors; a 6.1% increase in the number of travellers from Europe; a 7.8% increase in those originating from North America; a 15% uptick in visitors from Asia; a 2.5% increase in those from Australasia; and a 21% jump in the number of tourists from the Middle East.
The number of tourists from South America, however, decreased 1%.
The majority of foreign arrivals were from Lesotho, followed by Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, the UK, Germany, the US and Namibia.
With regard to travelling minors, 284 191 foreign minors travelled to South Africa, with 0.6% turned back owing to lack of compliance with recently introduced requirements for travelling minors.
A total of 2.68-million people departed the country between December 1 and January 7, with 1.9-million of these foreigners and 780 783 South African citizens.
The top ten ports of entry over the period were the OR Tambo International Airport, in Gauteng; the Beit Bridge border post, in Limpopo; the Lebombo border post, in Mpumalanga; the Maseru Bridge border post, in the Free State; the Ficksburg border post, in the Free State; the Oshoek border post, in Mpumalanga; the Cape Town International Airport, in the Western Cape; the Kopfontein border post, in the North West; the Ramatlabama border post, in the North West; and the Groblers Bridge border post, in Limpopo.
Gigaba asserted that the DHA had succeeded in facilitating the smooth movement of citizens, tourists and other foreign nationals through the country’s various ports of entry, empowered by additional resources and increased capacity.
He further alluded to the increase in the number of foreign travellers as a vindication of the department’s decision to introduce contentious new visa laws for parents travelling with children.
Concessions to these regulations had since been approved by Cabinet, but had yet to be enacted.
“Our country can balance the national interests of national security and child safety with tourism. We can be a safe and convenient country to travel to and we believe the immigration concessions do exactly that.
“With regard to the progress of Cabinet concessions on immigration regulations, indeed we are on course. We should be ready soon to report on the
strong advisory in respect of children from visa-exempt countries,” he commented.
Gigaba added that the department’s Excise Movement and Control System biometric pilot programme had been continued across several passenger processing counters at the four pilot airports, with two counters at Lanseria Airport, in Gauteng, five counters at the King Shaka International Airport, in KwaZulu-Natal, eight counters at the Cape Town International Airport and five counters in the transit area at the OR Tambo International Airport.
“Travellers experienced a smooth process with only limited glitches, as would be expected of any new endeavour. In terms of process, the biometrics of a traveller will be captured in addition to the normal scanning of the passport to record the movement on our enhanced movement control system.
“A turnaround time of less than three minutes is currently achieved for first registration of travellers and about one minute for travellers that require verification on subsequent movements,” the Minister explained.
He, meanwhile, reiterated the DHA’s commitment to introducing the visa concessions approved by Cabinet.
“Making concessions work is a priority for us, as we believe it to be in the best interest of all to make the country safe while ensuring tourists are still coming to South Africa.
“If we do not keep South Africa safe and fail to provide effective protection for children, we are going to push travellers away. Similarly, if we don’t continue to improve on the traveller process modalities, it will push travellers away.
“The attraction of South Africa goes beyond reckless convenience. We have an opportunity to strike a more collaborative tone as government and the tourism sector; one that appreciates the perspective of the other,” Gigaba held.