Tourism players should prepare to adjust to the open borders

A few months back when I learnt that I had a trip to make to Ghana, the first thing that came to my mind was whether I needed a visa to get it. I looked it up and had to confirm with like three other different sources before being sure.

Lucky enough Ghana did not require a Ugandan to have a visa before visiting the land of Kwame Nkrumah.

The requirement to have a visa before visiting an African country may not sound like something serious until you are set to travel to that country and it dawns on you that you will be treated like someone trying to go to those countries where you are not really wanted. Some African countries will even have you dropping your documents at a French embassy that will handle them on their behalf.

East Africa as a community has for ages made it easy for the people in the region to travel with a lot more ease. No visa requirements and the fact that you can stay around longer probably just enjoying the good food each country has to offer. This open border policy for the region has seen intra-regional travel growing exponentially. For example you may not want to arrive at the Busia or Gatuna border at the peak time when buses also arrive.

Rwanda took things a step further by allowing other Africans to come over without bothering about having a visa prior to arrival. This smart move has seen more people who are curious about the progress the country has made, making the trip to come and see it for themselves. It has been such a huge relief for those who come around for the many conferences as part of MICE tourism.

Recently at his swearing in ceremony, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta borrowed a leaf from Rwanda and also opened up Kenya to more African visitors by granting them visas on arriaval. For some this may have merely sounded as him being nice after a tumultuous election and proof that he has picked something from Rwanda.

The truth of the matter is that having opening our borders to fellow Africans is a huge boost to tourism and key players in the sector ought to think a lot about what this means. You see our tourism sectors were mainly fashioned around attracting visitors from the West (Europe and North America). However a lot has changed over the years. The Far East and China in particular are now big sources of visitors.

Domestic tourism has also now become a thing and locals are encouraged to explore their countries more before thinking of flying away to the concrete jungles of Dubai. In the same spirit, East Africa has embraced regional tourism. Kenya for example woke up to figures showing that so many Ugandans were flying in or braving the long bus rides to go and enjoy the beaches in Mombasa, Malindi and Diani.

Domestic and regional tourism helped the Kenyans and the rest of East Africa to wake up to the fact that the industry cannot survive only on visitors from the Europe and America. Later there was a realisation that even having the Europeans and the domestic tourists was still not all one needed to keep the industry lucrative. It was time to look for other potential African markets.

Our brothers in West Africa for example were and are a good target for keeping the industry a happy one. You can also add the South Africans especially since many of them never tire to ignorantly remind us how they “have never been to Africa.”

Even before opening up the borders, I know for a fact that Kenya’s tourism players have been luring the South Africans and the Nigerians to visit. One of the big Nigerian travel companies, Wakanow even recently opened up a Nairobi office to handle the growing traffic of Nigerians visiting Kenya for leisure. Now with open borders, we can be sure that more and more people will be flocking to Kenya and Rwanda for leisure.

Tourism players now have a duty to research and train so as to know how best to lure these people and how to handle them once they are here. It is good that both Rwanda and Kenya have airlines that fly into these places and can literally fetch these visitors.  We should just be ready to treat them the same way we have been treating the lighter skinned ones from Europe and America.

Views, expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the New Times Publications.