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Tourism revival: South Africa wants to offer the “digital nomad visa”

South Africa has many tourist arguments: beaches, natural parks, climate. And every year, millions of tourists are seduced by this destination. The tourism sector is one of the pillars of the South African economy, weighing around 10 billion dollars (8.2 billion euros), and generating many jobs across the country.

However, like all countries, South Africa has suffered from the effects of the health crisis linked to Covid-19. The tourism industry has been greatly impacted by traffic restrictions and border closures. Overnight, more foreign visitors. No more financial windfall linked to international tourism. Today, as the specter of the pandemic seems to be receding, tourism professionals want to make up for lost time.

How can South Africa revive its tourism industry?

The specialists present at the World Travel Market Africa show in Cape Town are convinced that one of the solutions to relaunch tourism is to set up a system of digital nomad visas. These are travel authorizations for traveling workers, allowing them to stay in a country for a long period of time (usually between 90 days and a year).

Several countries have already adopted it: Dubai, Greece, the Maldives… These destinations have experienced significant growth in the number of tourists“, explains Velma Corcoran, head of the Airbnb group for sub-Saharan Africa.

What we have done at Airbnb is work closely with the Italian Ministry of Tourism to move forward on the issue of the digital nomad visa.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa supports the digital nomad visa initiative, saying it helps economic growth. The project is currently being reviewed by the government.

And if this initiative should boost South African tourism, it does not solve all the problems. South Africa has long been confronted with two problems that are hampering the development of tourism: insecurity and skills shortages.

Crime rate in South Africa: a persistent problem

Security is South Africa’s Achilles heel. Crime affects both domestic tourists and foreign visitors. In the last three months of 2021, the number of homicides increased by 8.9% and that of car hold-ups by 13.8%.

This is a major challenge for usacknowledged South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. The Chinese president told me himself: many Chinese tourists want to come to Africa and especially to South Africa, but what is holding them back are the problems of crime.

The South African authorities seem determined to remedy this. But as long as the feeling of insecurity persists, some tourists will continue to shun this destination.

A relative lack of skilled labor

The other major problem in the South African tourism sector is the relative lack of skilled labour. This was already the case before the pandemic. This is even more true today, when the sector wants to relaunch.

The government has set up a support program for maintaining employment. This program eases the burden on operators, acknowledges Monika Iuel, Marketing Director at WESGRO, but much remains to be done to support the tourism industry.

I think the government job aids have been welcome. But this is not enough because tourism and the hospitality industry is a big service industry“, adds Monika Iuel. And to plead for a digital transformation in order to reach the greatest number of consumers.

Will the introduction of a digital nomad visa help tourism?

For specialists, there is no doubt that the introduction of a digital nomad visa would give a welcome boost to the tourism industry.

The conditions for granting these digital nomad visas are still under study. This includes determining what the minimum wage requirements will be for tourists applying for the visa, as well as the rules concerning health insurance, work certificates and accommodation.

If South Africa gives the green light to such a visa, it will become the first country in mainland Africa to offer visitors a long-term distance visa, joining several island states around the Continent: Mauritius, Seychelles, Cape Verde .

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