Tourists visiting the East African countries of Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda, will effective January 1, 2014 find it easy and cheaper after the three countries created one seamless tourist destination with the launch of the East African single joint visa on Tuesday.
The new cross-border visa, unveiled during the ongoing annual World Travel Market expo in London in the UK, will simplify travel arrangements for holidaymakers, as well as create a new brand for the whole region and open up opportunities for joint marketing campaigns, the Rwanda Development Board said in a statement.
At present tourists travelling between the East African countries must obtain a separate visa for each nation.
Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda are famed for their wildlife, which will, through the introduction of a joint visa, boost regional travel, adding value to the tourism products of the three countries and highlighting the diversity of East Africa.
The introduction of the single tourist visa is a result of a joint initiative and decision made by the Heads of State of the respective countries about six months ago.
The Ugandan tourism state minister Agnes Egunyo, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism Phyllis Kandie, as well as Rwanda’s High Commissioner to the UK Amb. Williams Nkurunziza unveiled the single joint visa at the Rwanda Development Board stand at the world’s biggest tourism expo.
“We celebrate another milestone in East African tourism, the impending transformation of our three markets into one seamless tourist destination. Our Presidents are strong believers in regional integration, including in the management of our tourism assets,” ,” said Nkurunziza.
“They charged Rwanda to co-ordinate the transition to the single tourism visa; six months later, we are happy to announce the realisation of this objective: single visa, one destination.”
He added that the introduction of the single visa will allow the three countries to promote their dramatic and varied, flora and fauna, landscapes and cultural experiences.
“With the single visa, a tourist can enjoy Kenya’s sandy beaches and majestic lions, Uganda’s waterfalls and magic music and Rwanda’s rolling hills and rare mountain gorillas,” he added.
The joint visa will cost $100 (about Rwf68,000), while the current cost of a single entry visa for Kenya is $50, for Rwanda is $30 and Uganda $50.
“We are delighted to be joining hands with our neighbours in a move that will benefit tourists visiting our diverse region, and also boost the respective tourism sectors through new joint marketing and trade opportunities,” Kenya’s Kandie said.
She noted that the single joint visa will now enrich diversity and at the same time increase the value of the tourism sector products in the region.
Uganda’s tourism state minister Egunyo lauded the cross-border visa, saying it is convenient for tourists since it is multinational.
She observed that the venture will make the three member states more competitive and at the same time build on regional integration.
Tourism is Rwanda’s largest foreign exchange earner, with the country recording $142.5m (Rwf96.9b) in revenues in the first half of this year compared to $128.4m (about Rwf87.3b) in the same period last year. The country received 664,729 visitors, up from 583,096 during the same period last year. This represented an increase of 11 per cent in earnings and 14 per cent in tourist numbers.
Rica Rwigamba, the head of tourism and conservation at RDB, explained that most of the tourists to Rwanda and East Africa come mainly from the US, the UK and Germany.
“Tourists will be able to choose which country to visit without limitations like delays or affordability since the single visa will be cheaper compared to the current arrangement,” said Paolo Scarsellato, the Top Tower Hotel general manager. He said Tanzania and Burundi should be encouraged to join the initiative to give tourists a complete experience across the East African Community.
“Other EAC members will join us along the way since we have not locked anyone out,” said Kandie.
The joint visa has worked in other regional blocs with member countries leveraging comparative advantages and maximising on it by pulling together their efforts and marketing the region as a single destination.