East Africa's open borders

Saturday June 17 2017

Tourists at the Maasai Mara watch the

Tourists at the Maasai Mara watch the wildebeest migration. PHOTO FILE | NATION 

By Susan Muumbi

Five years ago, the East African Tourism Platform was set up to promote regional tourism. In that time, national tourism roundtables have been established and operationalised in all five partner states.

And, as the push for open skies in the region seems to be coming to fruition, low-cost flights across the EAC may soon be available.

Since its inception, the EATP has facilitated business and networking for regional travel and tourism through Kwita Izina, Karibu Fair, Magical Kenya, KiliFair and Pearl of Africa.

Drawing lessons from Kenya’s Tembea Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda are now running Turambule Uganda (Visit Uganda) and Tembera-U-Rwanda (Visit Rwanda) campaigns. They anticipate a 15 per cent growth in regional tourist arrivals within the next year.

Uganda is Kenya’s top African tourist source market, ranking fourth in global tourist arrivals. At the close of 2016, the Ugandan market recorded a growth of 75.7 per cent increase in arrivals to 51,023, up from 29,038 in 2015.

In the same period, Kenya recorded a 3.7 per cent growth in Rwandan tourist arrivals posting 11,658 arrivals up from 11,242 in 2015.
In Kenya, East Africa represents 44 per cent of arrivals and 38 per cent of revenues.

Uganda occupies second top source market for Rwanda, with 260,000 Ugandans visiting the country annually. Kenya is at fifth position in arrivals to Rwanda, with about 65,000 Kenyans visiting annually.

Kenya accounts for 48 per cent of visitors to Uganda, followed by Rwanda at 35.3 per cent, Tanzania at 11.2 per cent and Burundi at 5.4 per cent.

Celebrating the fifth anniversary, chairman Bonifence Byamukama said, “We have played a critical role in the pursuance of a single destination brand showcasing East Africa at tourism expos.”

Some challenges remain, like the slow uptake of the single tourist visa by tour operators and tourists, and the lack of knowledge on the use of national IDs to travel regionally.

On the positive side, with common languages and the absence of visa requirements, there are many opportunities to grow regional tourism.