Regional tour operators do not doubt the usefulness of the joint East Africa Tourist Visa (EATV) launched on January 1, 2014, but they believe that it is still too early to count the profits directly associated with the project.
Three of the East African Community (EAC) states of Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda waived individual visa fees and replaced them with a single tourist visa, to allow easy access to the region’s cultural and environmental diversity.
Nearly 16 months down the road, Vincent Ngarambe, owner of Lets Go Tours Rwanda, a local tour operator that arranges tour excursions to Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi, acknowledges the positive impact of the EATV in helping tour operators and tourists.
“Tourists no longer have to endure multiple process of applying for visa in each country. Tour operators also benefited since, in the past getting traveling documents to cross borders was time consuming but now, instead of providing supporting documents such as tourists’ hotel confirmation and an RDB entrance permit, the EATV is sufficient,” Ngarambe said.
With the EATV, the three countries are offering multi-destination packages to tourists. The 90-day $100 visa is obtained at any consular office of the three countries.
Holders of the visa may visit the three countries without added costs or associated bureaucracy.
Ngarambe added: “I think the cash too would be trickling in had it not been for the terror threat paused by Al-Shabaab in Kenya. Generally, most of our tourists come from Kenya; we want to combine the attractions in Kenya with gorilla touring in Rwanda.”
Charles Serushyana, managing director of Attractive Safaris, a Kigali-based East African tours travel agency, said that since the EATV started, his company has counted only “one group of tourists” coming in from Uganda, last year. However he is not so sure about the visa’s impact as the same group entered Rwanda previously before the new arrangement was put in place.
Serushyana also cannot accurately quantify the monetary effect of the EATV on his business.
“It is really still too early to tell whether revenue has increased but what is clear is that the future could be better as we see much more effort being put in jointly marketing the region’s diverse cross-border tourism potential, by the three countries,” Serushyana said.
This, apparently, is the same situation in all three countries.
Speaking to Sunday Times from Nairobi, Kenya, JK Safaris manager, Kris Zachrisson, said he could not readily tell if his business profited directly from the EATV.
But, he said: “The three country visa has, in every, way been positive and I hear only positive comments from my clients, even clients traveling through just two of the countries go for this option just to avoid the extra bureaucracy in getting two visas.”
Zachrisson was also quick to point out that the tourism sector in the wider region has generally suffered due to terror threats in Kenya and Uganda. Principally based in Nairobi, JK Safaris has more than 20 years experience in East Africa and now has offices in Kigali.
“I am a firm believer in the visa and I believe in marketing the region together as a single tourist destination as this is the only way everyone will benefit.”
The next Northern Corridor Integration Projects Heads of State Summit scheduled next month is likely to clearly shed light on the impact of the EATV.
Meanwhile, the three countries’ diplomatic missions abroad are continuously cutting marketing costs by jointly conducting promotional events, as one entity, and positioning East Africa’s tourism assets collectively as part of the larger Northern Corridor Integration Projects.
Among others, last October, the embassies of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya in Ankara, Turkey launched a two-week promotional photo exhibition of the three countries’ flora and fauna.
The exhibition, part of efforts to bolster regional tourism, raised awareness about culture, tourism, trade and investment opportunities available in East Africa with focus on the EATV.
Similar exhibitions were organized in other Turkish cities.
“Promoting the East African Visa is a continuous activity for us. There have been joint awareness activities when participating at international fairs, road-shows, destination marketing trainings, and of course through the media,” said Yamina Karitanyi, Chief Tourism Officer at the Rwanda Development Board.
The trio participates in road shows like the annual World Travel Market (WTM), a global event for the travel industry professionals to meet and conduct business deals.
The WTM, a vibrant business-to-business event presenting a diverse range of destinations and industry sectors to UK and International travel professionals, reportedly generates more than £2.5 billion of travel industry contracts.