The introduction of electronic visas would serve both to grow tourism volumes and to create new job opportunities in African tourism, South Africa’s Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said on Sunday.
“There are opportunities to accelerate the creation of regional visa schemes,” Van Schalkwyk said at the opening of the 2012 Routes Africa Conference in the Seychelles.
“This would allow our international visitors and intra-African travellers to move more freely and efficiently, to the benefit of our continent.”
E-visas are currently only offered by a few countries, such as Australia, the United States, Bahrain and India. The process of applying for an e-visa involves completing the visa application form online, on a secure website.
The development of secure electronic transactions integrated into a website’s payment system has made electronic commerce an increasingly popular option; it involves a “secure electronic transaction” (SET), which makes use of several layers of encryption to protect sensitive information.
E-visas are being introduced by more countries around the world as a convenient way to apply to visit that country because it is not necessary to visit the country’s consulate in person.
Van Schalkwyk said the continent had a long way to go to capitalise on its unique attractions and cultural diversity, but that visa barriers still needed to be overcome. Making use of technology would help in developing high security measures while creating efficient travelling.
“The bureaucracy and costs involved in applying for and issuing visas are a major impediment to foreigners wishing to visit our shores, and to our own people who travel on our continent,” he said.
Another barrier, he said, was old air connectivity models. “They inhibit growth and only serve to keep our destinations dependent on air arrivals from economically hard- pressed traditional source markets.
“We need a long-term plan to create an intra-continental air transport architecture that facilitates intra-African travel and trade, including tourism,” Van Schalkwyk explained.
New-model lower cost airlines that could cater for market segments that are currently underserved were also needed on the continent.
The African continent is on the verge of an unprecedented tourism boom over the next two decades. “In a mere three years from now, there will be just over 50 African cities with populations exceeding three million,” he said.