Visa waivers a 'welcome boost' for tourism and trade

The announcement that South Africa has added seven countries to the visa waiver list has been welcomed from many quarters, including that prime tourism destination, the Mother City.

CapeTalk's Africa Melane speaks to Tim Harris, chief executive officer of Wesgro, the official tourism, trade and investment promotion agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape.

Harris says some of the countries are significant growth markets not only for the city, but for the country as a whole both in terms of tourism and future investment.

New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates and Ghana are at the top of the list. The others are Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Qatar and Sao Tome and Principe.

It's very clear that often people who come for leisure or who come for a conference, it's an important first link towards establishing a relationship that could lead to trade and foreign investment.

Tim Harris, CEO - Wesgro

He says freeing up travel for other countries on the African continent is an important symbolic step, especially in the case of a large tourism market like Ghana.

It's a very important symbolic move to introduce visa-free travel to a fast-growing fellow-African country like Ghana, but certainly in our ability to attract wealthy Ghanaians to the Western Cape - we get about 4000 every year but now that we've relaxed requirements we'd be looking to increase that number in the next few years.

Tim Harris, CEO - Wesgro

Harris says the concession in the Middle East is a strategic move to attract high-spending tourists to South Africa, in particular during the winter season in Cape Town.

Visa-free travel is really important for this Arab market - we've got great activity across a lot of the Middle Eastern carriers like Emirates, Qatar... We've also got other African carriers that connect us to the Middle East.

Tim Harris, CEO - Wesgro

They're not put off by the reputation that we have for slightly wetter, rainier winters, they actually enjoy that break from the Middle Eastern weather.

Tim Harris, CEO - Wesgro

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Harris reminds listeners of the history of tit-for-tat visa regulations between South Africa and New Zealand, saying it's important to get visitors numbers back up after they dropped from around 25,000 a year to 15,000.

They spend a lot of money as well and are a very strategic market for us in that South-South relationship.

Tim Harris, CEO - Wesgro

We look forward to making hay from this new sun that's shining.

Tim Harris, CEO - Wesgro

Harris believes it's still important to explore the e-visa system, as South Africa had been intending with a pilot in New Zealand.

If you're going to have a visa requirement for a country and it's possible to have an e-visa system which is much easier to access then, absolutely you have to have that option, but right now it's not clear.

Tim Harris, CEO - Wesgro

Harris also commented on the move to deploy the army in crime-riddled areas of Cape Town and how international headlines could put off visitors.

It's our challenge as marketers, as communicators to explain the nuance of the crime situation. We have to acknowledge first of all that in total it's an unacceptable situation and operational responses are very welcome in terms of reversing this trend, but there are distinct regional dynamics in the city.

Tim Harris, CEO - Wesgro

To hear the rest of the conversation, listen below:


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