The East African Tourist Visa has a greater impact on promoting regional markets compared to international ones, according to the joint marketing tourism committee under the Northern Corridor Integration projects.
The three East African Community (EAC) partner states launched a single tourist visa in February, last year, which allows tourists roaming the three partner states to travel freely without seeking any other travel document or paying more.
The visa was meant to open the region to travellers from around the world and help boost tourism in the region marketed as one destination.
However, according to officials in the marketing committee, the visa initiative, coupled with a tripartite arrangement between Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda to have citizens of the three countries use identity cards as travel documents, has led to a sharp rise in the rate of regional clients as opposed to those from international markets.
Reacting to the development, Yamina Karitanyi, the head of tourism and conservation at Rwanda Development Board, said regional markets were more predictable and sustainable compared to international markets given the trend of travel advisories that have targeted the countries in the region.
Kenya has been subject to travel advisories by a number of countries such as Britain and Australia following terrorist attacks.
The latest attack by militants al Shabaab on an institution of higher learning in the north-eastern part of the country left 148 people dead and scores injured.
“Domestic and regional tourism has gone up in the region, which has also had a positive impact on trade. Regional markets are bearable and will be more sustainable in future compared to international markets,” Karitanyi said.
She said the region was safe and secure as a tourist destination even with the few incidences and pockets of insecurity which were not isolated to East Africa alone.
Edwin Muzahura, the marketing manager of Uganda Tourism Board, blamed a section of foreign media for “overhyping and over publicising incidents that have occurred in the region.”
Muzahura said the same incidents have taken part in various parts of the world such as France (like the attack on Charlie Hebdo journalists) but did not necessarily result in travel advisories.
“There are many positive attractions in all of the countries in the region; however, there has been a lot of negative publicity by the foreign press and advisories being issued by some governments. Terrorism is a global threat and not unique to any part of the world, the way forward is to work together and not issuing advisories that only worsens the situation,” Muzahura said.
The region is easily accessible and well connected to the rest of the world by RwandAir and Kenya Airways, Muzahura added.
Fiona Ngesa, the deputy regional marketing manager of the Kenya Tourism Board, said Kenya had received overwhelming support from Rwanda and Uganda during the times of attack.
She echoed Karitanyi’s comments that tourism promotion efforts should encompass regional tourism.
“That will necessitate developing new packages that are in favour of regional tourists,” Ngesa said.
She noted that Kenya was currently on a recovery process and had multiple efforts to ensure that tourists were safe, including having a police unit dedicated to tourism.
“We want to reassure our domestic, regional and international visitors that they will be safe and secure. We are open for business and we therefore encourage all to come and sample the diversity of our tourism products,” Ngesa said.
Learning from the past, the regional private sector in the hospitality industry has also invested in security equipment and training their staff.
Mike Macharia, of the Kenya Tourism Federation, said across the region, the private sector was making investments in the security sector to curb incidences and ensure that the region has a good reputation.