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By Josephine Wawira
Cross border movement across the East African region has realized an average year on year growth of 2% since 2014. This is according to the East African Tourism Platform, which while marking 5 years of existence, notes that in 2015 the number of regional tourist arrivals from within the EAC member states was approximately 852,000, representing 65% of tourism arrivals. This is chiefly attributed to the single tourist visa. More than 10,000 EATVs valued at US$ 1.5 Million have been sold in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda.
“We have played a critical role in the pursuance of a Single Destination Brand showcasing East Africa as One in Tourism Expos, zero-cost work permits-enabling free movement of labor, Single Tourist Visa, and Interstate Passes,” says Bonifence Byamukama, the EATP Chairman.
Promotion of domestic tourism through campaigns aimed to encourage East Africans to travel with the region, has also achieved a great deal. Drawing lessons from Kenya’s Tembea Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda are running Turambule Uganda (Visit Uganda) and Tembera-U-Rwanda (Visit Rwanda) campaigns respectively; with an anticipated outcome of a 15% growth in regional tourist arrivals within a span of 1 year (2017).
Moreover, EATP has played an instrumental role in linking the tourism sector with the regional business community and helped in lobbying for policy reforms. Through platforms such as Kwita Izina, Karibu Fair, Magical Kenya 2016, KiliFair and Pearl of Africa; approximately 2,500 regional business operators have been given the opportunity to trade and learn on regional products through B2B, exhibitions, trade-fairs and destination training. Cyrus Onyiego, the Country Manager of Jumia Travel Kenya appreciates the efforts of EATP in the B2B facilitation saying, “the body has constantly played a bridging role between us and most of our hotel partners in East Africa.”
Yet, it is important to highlight areas that still need to be addressed to solve challenges that include lack of innovation in product development, and unverifiable returns on investment from joint initiatives. Besides, inadequate accurate and up-dated data, changing business dynamics, negative perceptions, travel advisories, costly air fares, inadequate air frequency, and restrictive bilateral air service agreements point to the herculean task that the region still faces. “Policy makers should take decisive and proactive actions to steer regional airlines to greater heights. This is an era for open sky policy. It is estimated that liberalization among the five EAC partner states will result in 46,320 additional jobs and annual revenue of US$ 202.1 million. Affordable air travel is not an option,” notes Bonifence.
Based on recent increased tourist arrivals and spending, tourism within the EAC has significant potential for growth. As a result, with a major focus on competitiveness, these countries are in their best-ever position to harness the development promise of expanded and sustainable tourism.