East Africa on verge of single tourist visa after 10-year wait

June 26, 2014

East Africa on verge of single tourist visa after 10-year wait

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Nairobi – After 10 years of stop-go discussions, three East African states are on the verge of launching a single tourist visa to ease the path of visitors across national borders and make it easier for the tourism industry to offer multi-destination packages.
“It’s taken a while. There were concerns about how to split the revenue, about possibly losing money and about screening visitors, but Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya have seen that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages,” said Waturi Matu, coordinator (Kenya) of the East African Tourism Platform.
Moves to facilitate tourists across East African Community borders was given fresh impetus in June when the presidents of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda met and agreed to strengthen integration and cooperation to spur the growth of trade.
Rwanda will be in charge of designing the visa, and the plan is to have it launched in January next year with Tanzania and Burundi free to join at any time,” she said.
Long a lobbying goal of East Africa’s tourism industry, the single visa will enable a tourist to buy a visa for the three countries for $100 instead of three visas for $150. The savings for couples and couples with children, the main tourism unit, is therefore substantial.
“Tourism is a key source of income for the East African Community and we support the East African Tourism Platform precisely so it can lobby to make the borders between members states ‘thinner’ and less bureaucratic,” said Frank Matsaert, CEO of TradeMark East Africa.
The governments and EATP hope that the move will help lift their share of international tourism arrivals. It is an increasingly competitive and cut-price market and tourism operators see the single visa as a first step towards winning more African-bound visitors.
EATP’s other lobbying goals include an Open Skies policy to break down airline protectionism by member states. “A visitor pays $1,000 to come to East Africa and then finds that it costs another $400 to go to another EAC state, another $400 for a third and so on. This doesn’t encourage long stays and multi-destination packages,” Waturi said.
Another EATP goal is to cut the bureaucracy for tourist bus operators. At present, for instance, Tanzania will only allow Tanzanian-registered vehicles into its National Parks.
Mohamed Ibrahim, Principal Secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Commerce and Tourism, told a World Tourism Organisation meeting on August 29th that the three countries had also agreed to allow citizens of the three to use their national identity cards to cross borders.
“To promote regional tourism, the partner states further agreed to allow their people to use national identity cards while crossing respective borders and air travel within the states,” Dr Ibrahim said.
There were 980 million international tourists in 2011 – one billion are expected this year – of which Africa registered only 50 million compared to 503 million for Europe, 216 million for Asia and 156 million who went to the Americas. Out of the revenue, Europe took a 45% share, Asia 28%, the Americas 19% and Africa a meager 3% or $33 billion.
Rica Rwigamba Head of Tourism and Conservation in the Rwanda Development board, argues that Europe has shown the way. A single “Schengen” visa allows tourists to visit 25 European Union states for up to 90 days.
He also argued against the duplication or EAC states tourism marketing campaigns and has called for a single marketing platform under the EATP.
”Year on year we spend vast sums of taxpayers money running competing tourism campaigns among EAC states which may, and can, cause resentment and mistrust, amongst them and potential consumers. But having a single marketing platform, like the East African Tourism Platform, can create a bigger impact and reduce the duplication of efforts and resources,” he wrote in his blog.

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