The East African Tourism Platform (EATF), a regional private sector body for tourism in the East African region, on Sunday appealed to EAC governments to liberalize their air transport services in a bid to spur the tourism industry. The call was made by EATF chairperson, Fred Odek, who was speaking during the official opening of the 2nd EAC Tourism Expo hosted in Bujumbura. According to Odek, the existing different restrictive Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASAs) among the Partner States is impeding the harmonisation of air transport services in the region. Against this, he called on partner states to among others, finalize the EAC regulations to facilitate the liberalization of air travel in the region. “The Partner States should also grant rights to each other the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th freedoms in line with the Yamoussoukro Decision of which all are signatories,” he said, adding that by working together, they could ease mobility to benefit travel in the region. Odek pointed out that air fares in the region remain extremely high due to the lack of open skies and heavy taxes levied by Partner States’ governments, hindering contributions to greater trade and tourism. He however hailed the East African Single Tourist Visa and use of national IDs as travel documents across the region among the best policies that had been formulated by the EAC. Describing the tourism sector as one of the leading sources of foreign exchange earnings for the region, Odek reiterated that based on GDP losses by region, EAC tourism was the second most affected region globally by the pandemic after Central America. Steady recovery “In 2022, we are experiencing a recovery as the COVID-19 pandemic has been contained in most of our key source markets and international travelers are now fully confident to travel. However, arrivals and revenues are still less than 2019 levels,” he said. Data indicates that the hospitality sector had also suffered but was steadily recovering with Covid-19 health regulations having been eased and most Partner States now allowing tourists to enter without the Covid-19 test requirements. Another factor that has negatively impacted the gains also included the Ukraine-Russia crisis on tourist arrivals in East Africa and especially for destinations like Zanzibar where Russia and Ukraine were the key source markets. He said that the war in Ukraine has also affected air travel costs in the region due to the increasing costs of fuel and other commodities. Data from last year’s East Africa Business Council (EABC) indicate that air transport liberalization is set to lower flight costs by nine percent and result in a 41 percent increase in flight frequencies. The report also recommended that member states of the EAC provide subsidies for the form of direct financial support, loan guarantees, corporate bonds and tax reliefs. Meanwhile, Burundian Vice President Prosper Bazombanza officially opened the expo that is expected to run up to 30th September, 2022 with the last three days dedicated to an excursion across the country for tour operators and exhibitors participating in the expo.