Stifling visa rules affecting SADC tourism

Onerous aviation regulations, stifling visa requirements, and a lack of cross-industry collaboration are hampering the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) economic potential. This was the resounding message from aviation experts at the recent Southern African Industrialisation Forum (SAIF) held in Sandton.

“We can talk about a free trade area and regional integration, but if people and goods can’t move efficiently, it’s all just empty promises,” asserted SADC Business Council Tourism Alliance Lead, Natalia Rosa. “The current state of aviation in SADC is a massive own goal for our economies.”

Achieving greater connectivity within the SADC aviation industry requires harmonising regulations across countries, explained Namhla Tshetu, Airlink Executive Manager Corporate Services.

She pointed out that while protecting a country’s sovereignty is important, when regulations are misaligned, it hinders collaboration on regional routes. Overcoming this requires finding common ground, using global standards and most importantly, considering airline perspectives when formulating bilateral agreements or policies that impact operations.

“Without substantial involvement of airlines in drafting aviation rules, suboptimal regulations often emerge that inhibit cross-border operations, whether due to protectionist agendas or simply lack of practical industry input. Rectifying this limited participation will be integral to unlocking connectivity and forging viable, integrated air networks across the SADC region.”

Onerous visa requirements for many SADC nationals travelling within the region impede tourism, business, and the free movement of labour. Limited visa openness also restricts SADC’s competitiveness as a travel and investment destination.

“If Africans cannot travel within Africa themselves freely, everything else that we are saying here is a pipe dream. How is it possible that today as we speak in 2024, up to 45% of African countries need visas to go to each other’s country, when 23 of these African countries give Americans entry without visa?” said Aaron Munetsi, CEO Airline Association of Southern Africa.

Effective route development involves more than just launching new routes; it requires collaborating with stakeholders to support the expansion and sustainability of existing routes over time, explained John Howell, CEO and founder of AviaDev Africa. This could mean increasing flight frequency, passenger numbers, or aircraft gauge to continue stimulating demand.

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