Countries in Africa are bullish on e-visas helping them to boost their tourism industries, but failures to overcome tech struggles are making any prospect of full recoveries soon an unlikely prospect.
More than 40 countries worldwide offer e-visas, travel permits that consumers can obtain online through a destination’s tourist visa website instead of having to go to an embassy or consulate, in their quest to help boost tourism. That figure includes a growing list of African nations that believe the emerging form of technology can help their travel industries run more efficiently.
But destinations throughout Africa are experiencing difficulties in processing e-visas, hindering their goals to hit tourism targets while they recover from the damage the pandemic inflicted on their travel industries.
South Africa is one of them, and officials in the country acknowledge the challenges they’re facing in implementing e-visas, which they believe will help reach their goal of attracting 21 million visitors annually by 2030.
“We have made a commitment to get on the e-visa issue as soon as possible, but the backlog is huge,” South African Minister of Tourism Lindiwe Sisulu said. “Just converting what we have on paper to being computerized is taking a lot of time. We are sorry that we are behind. It is a technology and backlog issue.”
Meanwhile, Kenyan authorities have expressed frustration about how long it’s taking them to issue e-visas to travelers after implementing the program in 2021.
“We have received a lot of complaints on e-visa on its efficiency since last year. Before it could take minutes,” said Najib Balala, who recently stepped down as Kenya’s cabinet secretary for Tourism and Wildlife. “But now it can take even a month and that has been a major complaint we are receiving from visitors coming into the country.”
Kenya shifted from a manual to online visa system last year as part of a government policy to digitize service delivery. But travel agent Abraham Guyo admitted he has constantly received complaints from international clients about the challenges they’ve faced when applying for an e-visa.
“[Payments] by credit card may not work forcing us as tour agents to physically go to the bank here and also provide the visa reference number for it to be manually linked to the application. The process has become a pain point for travelers,” Guyo said.
However, one African country that has experienced success after implementing e-visas is Morocco. Tourism Minister Fatim-Zahra Ammor believes the launch of e-visas in July is one factor in the industry’s strong recovery.
“Through electronic visas, Morocco becomes more competitive in the international arena,” Ammor said.
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Photo credit: Officials at Goma Airport in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Destinations across Africa have experienced challenges with e-visas. World Bank Photo Collection / Flickr