East Africa: Is East Africa making progress on the tourism promotion front?
After the introduction of the EAC tourist visa, East Africa has been cited as one of the most open destinations alongside Southeast Asia and Oceania.
On the other hand, North America, Central Africa and North Africa remain the most restrictive regions.
This is according to the World Travel Tourism Council (WTTC) report which also indicates that despite improvements, traditional visa policies remain a barrier to both tourism and economic growth.
East Africa has made huge strides in improving the tourism sector in the bloc. So far, three countries have adopted the single tourist visa, which makes it easier to market the bloc as a single destination and allows tourists to access all three countries from a single visa.
The single tourist visa was introduced in 2014 as a pilot project between Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. Under this initiative, tourists can choose between a single country visa or an EAC tourist visa. With the latter, they are allowed to move freely between the three countries for a period of up to 90 days.
In October 2020, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) released a report citing the tourism situation in the region.
EALA noted that some overriding challenges, including underfunding of the sector, insecurity, and lack of harmonized policies and laws, need to be addressed quickly to ensure the sector thrives.
The same sentiments were echoed by Ambassador Libérat Mfumukeko, Secretary General of the East African Community (EAC), who said the region is undoubtedly on the right track with significant achievements recorded in 2018 despite some challenges, especially the EAC tourist visa.
“The achievements of the EAC have earned us international recognition as the best performing REC in regional integration by internationally renowned institutions such as the African Development Bank and the World Bank.“, He said.
In early 2020, the EAC Secretariat embarked on joint tourism promotion at major international tourism fairs in Berlin and London to increase the visibility of the EAC as a unique tourist destination, promote the intra-regional tourism and to strengthen cooperation between tourism stakeholders within the Region.
At this stage, the review of the classification criteria for tourist accommodation establishments and restaurants had already started in August 2018. The review aimed to take into account trends and best practices in international tourism in order to ensure that the region improves its competitiveness and positions itself adequately in the global market. tourism market. The EAC tourist visa was later marketed as a key catalyst for the growth of tourism in the region.
“Tourist arrivals in the EAC increased from 3.5 million people in 2006 to 5.7 million people in 2017. However, this is still very low given that it represents only 8.6% of the African market share and 0.3% of the global market share. Tourism contributed to the gross domestic product of the EAC Partner States by an average of 8.8% in 2017. The percentage contribution was above average in Rwanda (12.7%), Kenya (9.7%) and in Tanzania (9.0%) Tourism contributes an average of 18.8% to total EAC exports, although the percentage contribution is higher in Rwanda (30.5%) and Tanzania (26%)” , part of the report says.
The EAC includes Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan. The latest entrant to join in April 2016, South Sudan, is not yet a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
According to a WTO report on the EAC, entitled Trade Policy Review Report by the Secretariat, the region is home to several natural attractions. Kenya and Tanzania have a coastal tourism segment, while landlocked countries have beautiful nature and wildlife. Tourism contributes significantly to the economies of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.
“Under the EAC Treaty, countries must coordinate their tourism policies. This includes: establishing a common code of conduct for tour operators and tour operators, standardizing hotel classifications and harmonizing professional standards for agents Common criteria for the classification of tourist accommodation establishments and restaurants have been developed by Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania The WTO study reads in part.
Over the past few years, Kenya has slowly but surely rebuilt its tourism sector. According to the EALA report, Kenya has put in place a number of strategies which include the development of policies to support the expansion of the tourism sector.
The country has also provided charter incentives intended to improve travel within the country. Kenya’s main activities include holiday travel at 68%, business travel at 18% and transit at 14%.
In 2018, the country’s tourism sector recorded an improvement in performance, mainly attributed to growth in aviation, investor confidence, removal of travel advisories, visits by foreign dignitaries and revitalized marketing efforts. . Tourist arrivals for the year 2018 were recorded at 2.025 million. Challenges for Kenya include globalization leading to the creation of uniform standards and protocols, and heavy taxation of the sector, among others.
The country has termed itself “gifted by nature” with many tourist attractions including wildlife, nature, geography, culture, heritage and good weather all year round. Uganda saw a 7.4% increase in international tourist arrivals in 2018, with the number increasing from 1,402,409 people in 2017 to 1,506,669 arrivals in 2018.
EALA cited challenges in the country as weak capacity in terms of education infrastructure for manpower and human resource training and insufficient funding.
The tourism industry is a strategic priority for Rwanda, according to the EALA report.
The Assembly also noted that the sector has played a fundamental role in the transformation and modernization of the national economy. Tourism continues to be one of the main sources of foreign currency since 2007.
Data from the Rwanda Development Board shows that income from gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park increased by 25% in 2018 to $19.2 million. EALA also observed that notable challenges include the over-reliance on the gorilla product as a major source of tourism revenue and the need for improved marketing as a destination for wildlife, ecotourism, culture and conferences.
The number of tourists visiting Tanzania increased to 1.5 million in 2018 from 1.33 million recorded in 2017. Tanzania is yet to join the EAC single tourist visa.
The EAC Council of Ministers was therefore asked to follow up with countries that have not done so – Burundi, South Sudan and Tanzania – to join the platform.
The report said the country has 126 tourist spots, of which 57% belong to tangible cultural heritage and 32% to natural heritage.
The EALA the report states: “The country additionally features a rich African cuisine and culinary culture. Areas for improvement in the tourism sector include infrastructure development in all provinces;Ithe assimilation of hotels and the categorization of accommodation in Burundi.
According to national accounts, accommodation and food services brought in about US$135 million from 520,809 tourist arrivals in 2018, or about US$260 per tourist per visit. Data shows that year-on-year tourist arrivals have increased by around 15% over the past three years. This growth has exceeded Zanzibar’s Tourism Development Policy of 2003, which targeted 500,000 tourist arrivals per year by 2020.
In 2018, the sector contributed 28% of the islands’ GDP and 82% of its foreign exchange earnings. In 2017, tourism accounted for 68% of investments approved by the Zanzibar Investment Promotion Authority.
Under the EAC treaty, countries are required to coordinate their tourism policies, including establishing a common code of conduct for tour operators and tour operators, standardizing hotel classifications and harmonizing professional standards for agents in the sector.
So far, classification criteria for tourist accommodation establishments and restaurants have been developed by Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.
Overall, East Africa has recorded impressive achievements in tourism thanks to the conscious efforts of the EAC Partner States to work together to promote the growth of the sector.
The success of the tourism sector has benefited from immense private sector investment in hotels, transportation, marketing and product development, as well as dedicated government efforts in conservation.