In a move to diversify and earn more from tourism, the East African Community (EAC) has agreed to promote culture and sports as one of the tourist attractions in the region.
The move comes after it was recognised that the promotion of the tourism sector was one of the key strategies for deepening and widening the EAC integration process.
A draft protocol to establish the Culture and Sports Commission has been compiled and will be submitted to the next ordinary meeting of the Council of Ministers in February next year, for approval before being submitted to the partner states for ratification.
Monique Mukaruliza, Rwanda’s Minister for East Africa Affairs informed the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) recently in its third meeting of the second sessio in Kampala, Uganda that the commission will also work within the confines of the provisions of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) conventions.
“The commission will consider the importance of the intangible cultural heritage as a wellspring of cultural diversity and a guarantee of sustainable development, as underscored in the UNESCO recommendation,” she said.
When ratified and fully functional, the East Africa Culture and Sports Commission, in collaboration with the partner states’ organisations responsible for national Archives will work out modalities to put in place a regional network.
The regional network will develop a comprehensive programme of survey of arts, crafts and music and dance materials in the region, a research programme into customs and traditional beliefs, indigenous knowledge and also form a regional committee to coordinate indigenous knowledge and activities at the regional level.
In a bid to facilitate joint tourism activities in the region, EALA has already drafted legislation to establish a cooperation framework in natural resources management including the management of tourism and wildlife in the region.
The Bill among other things provides for a framework for the establishment of a Commission known as the East African Tourism and Wildlife Commission that will co-ordinate tourism and wildlife management activities in the region.
According to Honourable Safina Tsungu, an EALA member from Kenya who is also chairing the Tourism committee that drafted the legislation, in an interview with The New Times, said that the bill obligates partner states to come up with a framework that will ensure the EAC is marketed as an integrated industry and a single tourist destination.
She added that once approved the legislation would also provide a framework for joint development of programmes to promote the tourism industry.
“The framework will also establish a financing mechanism for the industry, where by even the marketing costs will be met through a trust fund,” she said.
Safina also observing that there is need for a legal framework that can obligate actors to play their role in promoting the industry.
She added that the Bill would encourage diversification of the tourism industry in the region, which is still largely dependant on wildlife, saying that new areas of tourism will be developed.
The new areas of tourism development will include sports and culture—areas that are not yet fully exploited in the region.
She stressed the need to promote the wealth of African culture and traditions through development of the packages that encourage cultural tourism and create incentives both for the providers and consumers. These packages might end up including carnivals and other cultural festivals.
“East African culture is unique and is capable of attracting tourists in comparison to the other various global tourist attractions, like the beaches and hotels that are scattered all over the world”, Safina said, citing the Indian Coastal region in Kenya (Lamu) which, under UNESCO, had been developed as a culture tourist attraction destination.
“Since the beginning of these cultural festivals, Lamu has greatly developed because people travel from all corners of the world to attend these festivals and this has boosted the tourism industry around the Coast”.
She added: “It is possible to have various cultural festivals on rotational basis through the region; if they are well planned and developed; they are capable of attracting many tourists from all over the world,”
“We want to bring in cultural tourism into the mainstream of the tourism industry. We are also considering developing Conference (hosting conferences) tourism; Rwanda and Uganda have already developed a niche in this area.”
EAC has already set up a standardised grading system for hotels, restaurants and other facilities that provide accommodation in the region.
The Community is also working towards harmonisation of tourism and wildlife policies, joint tourism promotions overseas, park fees and a joint EAC visa for tourists similar to the European Union’s Shenghen visa.