The East African Tourism Platform (EATP) has pledged to continue marketing the region as a single tourist destination, as well as take a leading role in conservation efforts to create a sustainable tourism industry in the region.
EATP comprises of the East African Community (EAC) countries’ tourism boards and tour operators.
“We are moving into packaging the region as one destination, celebrating flagship tourism events and finding solutions to challenges together, which wasn’t happening before,” said Amb. Yamina Karitanyi, the chief tourism officer at the Rwanda Development Board.
Amb Karitanyi was speaking during a meeting that brought together EAC tourism boards officials and tour operators to discuss opportunities and challenges facing the region’s tourism sector in Kigali over the weekend.
The meeting coincided with the annual ‘Kwita Izina’ ceremony on Saturday, where 24 baby gorillas were named.
The annual flagship tourism event in Rwanda was moved from June every year to September as part of a joint tourism promotion initiative established under a tripartite agreement between Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda. Under the deal, each member country has a period to focus on a flagship tourism event. Kenya was allocated October, where they host the Magical Kenya Expo, and Uganda took June when it hosts Uganda Martyrs Day on June 3.
“As stakeholders in Kenya, the most important thing is that we are now taking this step. We started with Magical Kenya in October as an anchor flagship programme to market the three destinations and we have so far got a lot of interest from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi as well as a bit of interest from Tanzania,” said Mike Macharia of the Kenya Tourism Federation.
He said though questions have been raised as to when Burundi and Tanzania would come on board; a contingent from Burundi attended the Kwita Izina events, showing the region’s commitment in integrating their tourism sectors.
“The whole idea is to enhance tourism for the whole of the EAC bloc and not to promote just three countries and leave out the rest. Hopefully, we can bring on board South Sudan and Ethiopia at some point,” he noted.
Carmen Nibigira, the EATP regional co-ordinator, said they were working with the different tourism sector players to promote the regional tourism products, and also discuss collaboration mechanisms for the conservation of the member countries’ tourist sites.
“The private sector is interested in building networks and forming partnerships of how they can market the region as one destination,” she said.
Nibigira noted that wildlife conservation cannot be sustainable without the involvement of the region’s private sector.
She said the EATP will encourage stakeholders to introduce and sell multi-country packages and improve cross-border tourism growth.
The vision of EATP is to see a vibrant and diverse single tourist destination that provides exceptional experiences to domestic, regional and international tourists. The group will be holding a series of events across the region to encourage the private sector firms engaged in tourism to look at the EAC as a growing tourism market and a destination with multiple products and service offerings.
Some of the noted achievements so far include the introduction of the East African Single Tourist Visa and the use of national identification cards for travelling within Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.
Bonita Mutoni, the managing director of Uber Luxe Safaris, a Rwandan tour operator, said the introduction of the Single Tourist Visa had increased her tourist client numbers by a threefold, barely two years since it was introduced.
“The growth has been huge given the short period of time. The single tourist visa facilitates visitors to travel around the three countries easier, which attracts more tourists to the Northern Corridor member states,” she noted.
Rwanda’s tourism industry generated $304.9 million last year, becoming the country’s largest foreign exchange earner. This was an increase of 4 per cent compared to $293.6 million in 2013. The total number of visitors rose to 1.22 million, compared to 1.12 million visitors in 2013.