It’s been a tough year for the tourism industry in Mozambique, with a duo of deadly tropical cyclones tearing into the central and northern regions of the country.
Now another storm is brewing for the industry, this time courtesy of the Mozambican government.
The government last month signed a decree immediately doubling the cost of single-entry visas, from $50 to $100. Long-term visas valid for stays up to 90 days, and work permits for foreign employees, have seen similar increases.
While visa fees have been increased in the past, most recently in early 2018, the overnight doubling of application costs appears unprecedented, and with little justification. Requests to immigration authorities for further information, or the reason for the increases, went unanswered.
The hike in visa fees “is the last thing we needed,” said Kevin Record, owner of Ibo Island Lodge in northern Cabo Delgado province, an area hard-hit by Cyclone Kenneth. “The country needs to encourage tourism across the board.”
That’s especially true in the wake of two cyclones, which have dented the country’s image as an idyllic island destination.
“The year started off on a good note in terms of demand, this changed from March and April when Mozambique was impacted by the cyclones, which resulted in a decline of guests traveling to Mozambique,” said Gregory Thierion, general manager at Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort, part of the Minor Hotels group. “Because of this, we have observed a slowdown in booking pace since this period. The last quarter is looking slow compared to the same time last year.”
All the more reason to boost arrivals figures, and cutting away red tape is an easy first step. Just look at Sri Lanka: in the wake of the April terror attacks the government recently dropped visa requirements for 48 countries. Mozambique’s move also goes against trends in southern Africa, where countries are actively making it easier for tourists to visit.
Botswana does not require visas for travelers from most Commonwealth countries, nor its key European and American markets. Neighboring South Africa is also steadily relaxing its visa regime. In July it dropped visa requirements for travelers from seven countries; including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and New Zealand; and is working towards an online e-Visa program for key markets, including China.
“The President of Mozambique has highlighted tourism as being one of the four key growth engines of the country, with the Prime Minister announcing a study on the issuance of e-Visas. This visa cost increase appears to go against the spirit of these pronouncements,” said Natalie Tenzer-Silva, director of local tour operator Dana Tours.
If there’s a silver lining in the cloud of curious government decisions, it’s that the cost of obtaining a visa-on-arrival remains unchanged at $50.
However, bar the tedious queues at immigration counters, both British and American governments advise travelers to apply for a visa before departure.
“You must get the appropriate visa before traveling,” warns Great Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which provides travel advice for citizens. “Border visas should be considered an exception, not standard practice.”
Likewise, the U.S. State Department’s advice on Mozambique warns: “U.S. citizens are required to have a visa to enter Mozambique. U.S. citizens have been denied entry for not having obtained the proper type of visa in advance.”
It further cautions that when it comes to obtaining a visa on arrival, “issuance is at the discretion of Mozambican Immigration Officials.”
Richard Holmes is a Skift contributor based in Cape Town.