East Africa Tourism Platform: Push comes to shove for common tourist visa

Last Friday, yet another meeting of the East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP) took place, this time in Arusha, as a follow-up of the Kigali meeting in early February.

EATP promotes East Africa as a single destination founded on growth, dynamism and investment. Regional integration calls for expansion of horizons be it size, scale, competitiveness or partnerships, resulting in an environment for tourism to thrive.

By understanding that common challenges need to be solved by agreeable strategic solutions and in line with its mission and vision, EATP hosted this latest forum geared to offer a platform for open discussions on the vision of East Africa as a single tourism destination and the feasibility and viability thereof.

Participants in Arusha were once again drawn from key companies and private sector tourism associations in the five East African Community member states of Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, as well as tourism boards of Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. The Arusha forum was a follow-up one where this time the stakeholders invited were the key business and tourism stakeholders, in other words those individuals considered the industry’s movers and shakers. As key players and influencers, the participants were gathered in the same room to discuss challenges and opportunities to development of tourism in the EAC and promoting the region as a single destination. The stakeholders invited from the 5 countries of the EAC must have a say in shaping the future of tourism and are already working in the EAC and doing cross-border business.

The current business climate is calling tourism stakeholders to rally their synergies and efforts to lobby government and policymakers to take tourism more serious in their decisions. From this forum, it was clear that all stakeholders are calling EA policymakers to:

• Harmonize tourism policies across the region to reflect the vision of East Africa as one destination

• Request EAC government to treat tourism as an export service when it comes to VAT and taxation

• Call for full implementation of an open-sky policy and to liberalize air connectivity for inter- and intra-regional tourism, value for money for tourism and trade

• institutionalize the framework to shift towards one voice, one language, and one strategy for East Africa as one destination

Mr. Bonifence Byamukama, Chairman of EATP, reminded all invited stakeholders to this forum, that it is time they make tourism an economic case, at the regional and national levels, and that each of them should play his role to push tourism on the agenda when it comes to the interest of the tourism industry. According to him, the time has come where tourism, due to its socio-economic contribution, is given the prominent role it deserves when it comes to budget allocation and conducive policies to support the industry.

Among other issues discussed were:

• product development and marketing
• skills/HR development and research
• infrastructure development
• policy, regulations and institutional framework