More than 30 of his clients have been offloaded at various airports in the world due to South Africa’s much-criticised travel restrictions.
He has also personally paid thousands of rands to compensate clients for damages suffered as a result, tour and safari operator Holger Jensen of Jensen Safaris told Moneyweb.
It’s had a devastating effect on his 38-year business and South Africa’s reputation as a tourist destination is in tatters, he said.
Jensen was referring to Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba’s recent failure to scrap the controversial requirements for foreigners travelling with an underage child.
SA authorities require an unabridged birth certificate for the child and a letter of consent from both parents.
If airlines allow passengers who do not comply to board flights to SA, they get huge fines and must pay for their return fare.
As a result, airlines are very strict, and thousands of families have been offloaded with their dreams of an unforgettable holiday in South Africa shattered.
Gigaba recently failed to scrap this requirement, despite plans to do so being part of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic stimulus package.
The tourism industry responded with disappointment.
Jensen facilitates tours and safaris for more than 1 000 tourists per year focusing on the premium Scandinavian market, especially Denmark.
Nevertheless, he has dealt with clients from 64 countries in the last 38 years, he said.
Last year, a family with four children had to delay their departure due to the failure of the employer, who made the booking, to inform them of the travel requirements. They had to pay R16 000 each for new air tickets, Jensen said.
All birth certificates in Denmark are issued by the state church whether you’re a member or not.
One Danish family with three underage children decided to depart from Hamburg, using a cheaper flight. They had the same paperwork as the other Danish clients, but were not allowed to board by Emirates as the childrens’ birth certificates were not considered to be “unabridged”.
Germany does not have a state church and considered the certificates to be invalid official documents. This forced him to purchase five new air tickets at a cost of R43 000, and send them to a local judge’s office to get official stamps on the birth certificates.
This delayed their departure by days and in terms of Danish consumer law he also had to compensate them for the days lost.
Jensen said families who want a bush experience avoid the risk of being offloaded and instead go to Kenya, which is a much shorter flight and competes very well on price. If they want a beach holiday, they prefer Thailand.
He said it was impossible to know how many tourists SA has lost over the past three years due to the visa restrictions.
“Last month I had a lady from Japan and I ensured she had a full understanding of the rules relating to travelling with her child of 14, but unknown to me, she had not had contact with the father of the child for the past seven years.
“She phoned SAA in Tokyo for advice and was told it would be no problem, as long as all the other paperwork was at hand.
“That was not correct and they were offloaded, two airplane tickets plus R56,750 out of pocket, which they had prepaid for ground arrangements in SA.”
The tourism industry is now waiting to see what the exact wording of the amended visa regulations are when they are published in the Government Gazette – hopefully this month.