The total number of tourists visiting South Africa fell around 6.8 percent in 2015, compared with the previous year, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) said on Wednesday.
That works out to a loss of about 650, 000 tourists, according to Stats SA.
Stringent immigration and visa regulations were blamed for the decline, said Stats SA.
Under the revised regulations implemented in mid-2014, tourists to South Africa have to apply in person for visas so that “biometric data can be reliably collected”.
On June 1, another new rule took effect, requiring children crossing the borders to be with their birth certificates.
Under mounting pressure from the tourism industry, the South African government has begun to implement concessions on the new visa regulations. These concessions include the introduction of an Accredited Tourism Company Programme for China, India and Russia with a possible extension to other visa requiring countries, the implementation of biometrics collection, starting with a pilot project at the country’s three main airports, and the establishment of more visa facilitation centres in China, India, Zimbabwe and other countries.
These measures have helped tourism pick up, particularly during the festive season.
According to Stats SA, the number of foreign visitors rose by 5.4 percent in December 2015, compared to the same period in 2014.
In December 2015, there were more than 1. 5 million foreign arrivals to South Africa. The arrivals were made up of 105, 062 non-visitors and 1, 442, 838 visitors.
The tourism sector accounts for roughly eight percent of South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product.
As immigration rules become more progressive, there is a chance that that number could grow which is good news for much-needed economic growth and job creation, industrial sources said.