Visas and air access were among the key areas up for discussion at the BRICS Tourism Ministers’ Meeting held in Cape Town this week, with direct flights between South Africa and its BRICS partners at various stages of implementation.
Briefing the media after the meeting, Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille said: We need to work together as BRICS nations to increase air access and ease visa regimes to ensure seamless travel between our countries.”
The post-meeting communiqué issued by all participants also highlighted “the need to raise awareness among BRICS countries to the importance of developing routes for better tourism mobility and connectivity amongst the member countries”.
Arrivals to South Africa from Brazil, India and China have still not reached pre-pandemic levels but they have shown significant growth over the past year. Russia has recorded growth from pre-pandemic levels.
In addition to giving country-specific updates, De Lille said her department had committed to “improving tourism visa and other related processes” for visitors and business events delegates from BRICS countries looking to take part in MICE events.
She also indicated that the Department of Home Affairs would be gazetting the long-awaited digital nomad visa “before the end of the year or early next year”.
Brazilian numbers for the period January to August grew by 41.2% between 2022 and 2023.
De Lille said the resumption of flights between South Africa and Brazil would bring positive benefits for both countries. LATAM will resume flights in December, while SAA will offer flights between both Cape Town and Johannesburg and São Paulo.
“Air access between the two countries will help us grow the numbers on both sides.” She added that South Africa was working with Brazil to put together a joining marketing strategy to make sure that more South African visitors went to Brazil, so that the flight didn’t go back empty.
Vice Minister of Tourism for Brazil, Ana Carla Lopes, said: “As President Lula says, ‘We are back in Africa’. It shouldn’t be a return; we should never have left.”
Brazil and Russia are both visa exempt, allowing visitors to enter the country visa free for a period of 90 days.
“Just that waiver helps us to increase the numbers coming to our country. We can see the impact of the visa waiver in the arrival numbers from Russia and Brazil.”
She added that they were working very hard to get the same provisions for India and China.
Russia is the only BRICS country to top its pre-pandemic arrivals, recording a 126.5% increase in January to August arrivals between 2022 and 2023, and over 70% growth since 2019.
De Lille said this was especially remarkable given that South Africa was a long-haul destination.
She said in engagements with Russia, direct flights between the two countries would be looked at.
While India and China do not benefit from visa exemptions, De Lille said both were among the list of 34 countries eligible to apply for e-visas to South Africa.
Of the BRICS nations, India recorded the highest number of visitors to South Africa between January and August at 54 867, an increase of 65.3% from the same period the previous year.
De Lille said there had been discussions with India to either return the SAA direct flight to Mumbai or to provide an opportunity for Air India to fly direct to South Africa.
She said discussions had started at the G20 summit in September, and they were optimistic that air access could be improved there too.
China recorded an almost 250% increase in visitor numbers between 2022 and 2023, helped along by the resumption of the direct Air China flight between China and Johannesburg in March. De Lille said they were now also working with Air China to bring a direct flight to Cape Town.
She said work was also being done with the Department of Home Affairs to ensure that the e-visa system worked smoothly for Chinese travellers, who typically liked to travel in groups.