Tourists visiting Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda will no longer have to pay for separate visas for all three countries, as the East African single tourist visa comes into effect on January 1, 2014.
Working like the Schengen visa for European Union countries, the East African single tourist visa will allow a tourist to enter any of the three countries that issued the visa and move freely within the other two.
The multiple-entry visa, which will be valid for 90 days, will cost $100. Tourists can apply at any diplomatic office of Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, at immigration offices of the respective countries or online.
Under the agreement reached by the three countries whose partnership is referred to as the Coalition of the Willing (CoW), Rwanda will provide the software for personalisation of the visa stickers to Kenya and Uganda. The software will enable the three countries to share the fees, tourist information and tourism data.
The visa is expected to reduce the costs of movement across the countries, leading to a increase in the number of tourists.
CoW experts met in Kigali on December 17 to assess the readiness of the issuance and implementation of the single tourist visa as directed by the CoW Integration Projects Summit of October 2013. At the meeting, the countries agreed that all the requirements were in place for the single visa.
Rwandan co-ordinator of integration projects and chair of the meeting Monique Mukaruliza said the single tourist visa will increase the number of tourists and also benefit citizens as it will allow free movement of people within the region
The visa will not be extended, and a visitor will not be allowed to work.
So far, 60,000 visa stickers have been processed and distributed to the respective High Commissions and immigration offices of the three countries.
According to Waturi Matu, co-ordinator of the East African Tourism Platform, the single tourist visa will encourage visitors to tour the region at a low cost.
“Tourists will only pay $100 to tour the three countries, instead of $150 or more as has been the case,” said Ms Matu.
However, she said more needs to be done. “The three countries should now focus on other issues like reducing the airfares within the region,” she said.
For example, it is more expensive for a tourist to fly within the three countries than to fly into them from Britain.
“A tourist flying from Britain to Kenya will pay $800, then $400 from Kenya to Uganda, and $300 to Rwanda,” Ms Matu said. “This is very expensive considering the distances between the East African countries.”
In 2010, the EAC gazetted the criteria for partner states’ hotels to adopt in their legal framework. The standards are similar to the ones used to rate South African hotels.
Since then, only Rwanda and Tanzania have started the process. Kenya, Uganda and Burundi are yet to commence.
Different hotel rating standards in the region have been causing friction among tourism industry players.
Ms Matu said East African countries need to implement the standardisation of their hotels to meet the agreed EAC criteria.
“To market yourself as a single tourist destination, hotel rates needs to be such that a five star hotel in Kampala is no different from one in Nairobi or Kigali,” said Ms Matu.
Experts say partner states will benefit more from tourism if the EAC is sold as a single tourism destination, with EU member states.
Tanzania has stated that it will not be party to the joint tourist visa agreement yet.
Tanzania’s EAC Deputy Minister Abdullah Juma, in an interview with The EastAfrican, said the country will not be part of the single tourist visa until issues of security, how to split revenues, and infrastructure is put in place.
“Security in the region is not good. For example, Kenya is prone to Al Shabaab attacks; if a tourist gets a visa from Tanzania and has security problems in Kenya, who will be blamed?” said Dr Abdullah.
Plans are also underway to market the three partner states as a single tourist destination in March 2014 at the Internationale Tourismus-Börse Berlin, the world’s largest tourism trade fair.
Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda will use a common logo and their stands will be designed similarly; the countries will also have a joint promotions committee.
The partner states have also agreed to set up the website www.visiteastafrica.org, to be hosted by Rwanda.