13 Jul 2016 13:40 PM

Nearly two years after the implementation of South Africa’s regulations for travelling minors, travellers are still being denied boarding as foreign airline staff try to implement the unabridged birth certificate (UBC) regulation.

With effect from June 1, 2015, children travelling to, from and transiting through South Africa are required to produce an unabridged birth certificate.

An Inter-Ministerial Committee, last year recommended changes to these regulations but, to date, no change has been made.

According to Martin Wiest, CEO of Tourvest Destination Management, more than 30 people were unable to fly from Paris to Johannesburg last week as a result of the regulations.

Wiest said there was still a lot of confusion about the paperwork of non- South African minors.

He shared his thoughts on a Facebook post on July 9 about his experience boarding a flight in Paris to Johannesburg: “A family from San Francisco was denied boarding ahead of us, a Canadian family behind us, and also an unaccompanied minor from Singapore with a US passport.”

He described his experience as “Endless tears, no resolve, no solution, just unloaded” and added that the situation was damaging SA’s brand.

David Frost, Satsa CEO, said he received stats from South African Airways last year detailing the June-December period, with an average of 13 people being turned away a day. “SAA only accounts for 30% of all inbound traffic so if you extrapolate that it would actually be about 40 people a day.”

Frost highlights three ways in which the confusion of the UBC has impacted the tourism industry. “Firstly, the number of people who have been turned away with pre-booked holidays, secondly, the negative PR that is sent out every day across the travelling community, as we’re the only country in the world to do this. The third and most powerful way this impacts us is that we will never know or be able to measure how many people were thinking of coming to South Africa who changed their minds and simply went to New Zealand, Australia or Thailand.” He adds that the potential visitors who opted for an alternative destination are the “untold damage” of the UBC impacts.

Frost said the confusion had put the onus on the airline staff to implement the regulations, when they did not know much themselves, resulting in “crying from children and shouting from adults”.

Mike Smuts, Owner, Africa Deluxe Tours, described an incident where an American high school choir, the Main Street Singers, were denied boarding a Delta Air Lines flight from San Francisco via Atlanta to Johannesburg.

The tour group comprised 41 people, 27 of them were minors who formed part of the choir. “The choir has travelled internationally for more than 30 years annually and have never encountered any problems in the world with visa regulations for children.

He said the problem was that staff of a foreign airline at the gate of a foreign airport had to act as immigration officials.

The tour had to be shortened by two days, resulting in the choir missing two days in Gauteng, three concerts, and an African choral workshop. Smuts said despite the tour being a success the experience had damaged the South African brand.

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