On July 15, the EAC Sectoral Council on Tourism and Wildlife approved the East African Community (EAC) Covid-19 Tourism Recovery Plan to try revive a sector badly hit by the pandemic for the past 16 months. Regional Ministers agreed that there is a need for a collective coordinated approach towards tourism recovery, with interventions aimed at reinforcing the measures being developed and implemented at national levels. Sector experts, including Yves Ngenzi, Coordinator of the Kigali-based East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP), welcome this 2021-2023 plan. They are looking at it as a tool that will facilitate tourism recovery in the region and hope for its speedy implementation. Ngenzi liked the fact that the private sector was consulted and EATP participated in senior officials and technical experts meetings to give private sector perspectives and challenges encountered during the pandemic. The plan is quite ambitious; ensuring that the sector recovers to its 2019 levels within a period of three years is good, Ngenzi said. Susan Ongalo Mugechi, CEO of Kenya Tourism Federation, also told The New Times that with the realities of the pandemics impact on the tourism, travel and hospitality industry, the regional plan comes at an opportune time to offer a road map for the tourism business to continue amidst the oscillating Covid-19 situation. Besides the tourism Covid-19 recovery plan, Ministers also approved the blocs tourism marketing strategy 2021-2025; a Protocol on tourism and wildlife management; regional guidelines for resumption of tourism; and the first regional tourism expo. The 22-page document seen by The New Times indicates that the plan is aligned to the blocs tourism marketing strategy. It is a call for action requesting development partners to support financing of proposed interventions and calling upon Partner States to allocate complementary resources and accelerate implementation of actions that will help cushion the sector. As noted, strong commitment from Partner States and other stakeholders is necessary to ensure achievement of the proposed actions at national and regional levels. Resource mobilisation, six pillars The total estimated cost for implementation of the plan is $57.8 million. To ensure that the plan is effectively implemented, financial resources will be mobilized from an array of sources, reads part of the document explaing how resources will be mobilised. Partner States are urged to allocate special budgets and additional resources for stimulus packages, development of tourism products, marketing and promotion, and for development of requisite skills. The plan, as indicated, is structured into six pillars each with a number of interventions that will be implemented within the immediate and short terms to ensure quick recovery of the sector in the region. These pillars are: managing the crisis, product and market development, development of tourism and hospitality standards, human capital development, tourism research and statistics, and environmental sustainability of the sector. One of the important activities under managing the crisis, Ngenzi noted, is the special budgetary allocation for tourism recovery, provision of recovery lending, credit lines and grants. This is so important, he said, adding: The third wave of the pandemic with tightened measures and lockdowns in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda accentuated difficulties in repayment of bank loans for hotels. Accrued interests making loans more heavier for businesses, loss of jobs and risk to loose more many industry professionals in the future. So, government incentives and refinancing of loans is critical. Another important activity under managing the crisis is the temporary reduction of taxes where appropriate in order to facilitate management of the pandemic and economic recovery. According to Ongalo, the aspect of managing the crisis through the identified pain points will offer direct or intended solutions towards recovery path for the industry in the region. She added: Such solutions include the domestic and regional tourism campaigns. Tourism for the region by the region. The criteria for national classification of hotels and restaurants exercise are currently under review. The review was informed by shortcomings observed in the criteria and the need to take into account the emerging trends in the sector. This is something we advocated for, Ngenzi said. Following the pandemic, the plan highlights, it is anticipated that tourists will be more concerned about their safety and health more than ever before. As a means of enhancing customer confidence and assuring them of their safety, it is imperative that Partner States undertake national classification, reads a section of the document. To facilitate this, countries will have to: finalize review of the classification criteria for tourism and accommodation establishments; and develop regional minimum standards for all other tourism enterprises including tour operators, travel agents and boat operators. Among others, under the pillar of human capital development, there will be identification and establishment of centres of excellence for tourism and hospitality training. This is quite important especially for some partner states who dont have enough professionals in the sector, Ngenzi said. For Ongalo, restoration of market confidence is one other positive the regional plan brings. Especially under the East Africa Tourism Platform in collaboration with the respective tourism boards of the member states to provide a sense of reassurance to the domestic, continental and international markets that the EAC region is a safety net for resumption of hospitable tourism and travel, she said. With a variety of experiences to offer, coupled by the single tourist visa, tourism recovery is promised for guaranteed business all year-round, through product diversification and development. Development and enhancement of the EAC tourism, travel and hospitality sector standards and protocols, she noted, is another key positive. She said: Shared standards of operation will enhance competitiveness of the region which will raise the product offering as well as attract more tourists and travellers. Opportunities also lie in the MICE sector that the region could jointly bid for. Implementation The implementation of the plan will be multi-sectoral. Accordingly, the bloc will promote partnership with other regional institutions to facilitate the implementation. Through collective action and partnership with key stakeholders, the region will leverage the required skills, expertise, technologies, assets, and resources to improve its reach, effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability of development efforts. Among others, as noted, implementation focus will be in areas that present strong opportunities to strengthen regional integration, intra-regional tourism, integrate markets and accelerate regional growth, and increase links within and across partner countries. As regards the institutional framework, it is stressed that effective implementation of the plan will require focused and well-coordinated efforts of the EAC as an institution working with relevant partner states Ministries. The governmental level efforts will include resource mobilization; coordination between the individual partner states and the EAC Secretariat; and coordination between private sector players. Effective follow up, it is also noted, oversight and joint monitoring mechanisms that enhance mutual accountability at all levels will be key to the success of the implementation of the plan.