Tough times ahead for EA tourism as insecurity scares visitors away

Saturday April 05 2014

Tourists at the Masai Mara, in Kenya. A new report says tourist arrivals in the country could drop. Photo/FILE AFP

East African countries face decreased growth in tourism as costly and cumbersome visa processes and insecurity turn visitors to other emerging destinations in Africa.

A new report by World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) states that if the region tackles rising insecurity and lengthy visa processes, the bloc could more than double the contribution of the tourism sector to the GDP.

This year, Kenya and Burundi are expected to trail behind their EA neighbours in the growth of tourism earnings and contribution to the economy.

The WTTC projects that Uganda’s sector contribution to GDP will grow the most at 6.4 per cent; in 2013 it was Ush5,495 billion ($2.1 billion).

Tanzania follows at 4.3 per cent; in 2013, contribution to GDP was Tsh6,899.5 billion ($4.2 billion), and Rwanda is set to grow at 4 per cent; GDP contribution was Rwf181.5 billion ($266.9 million) in 2013.

Kenya and Burundi are set to grow at a 3.1 per cent and 1.3 per cent respectively; last year’s GDP contribution was Ksh462.8 billion ($5.4 billion) in Kenya and BiF182.4 billion ($118,000) in Burundi.


Experts say the insecurity in Kenya remains the biggest risk to the economy. Analysts at Moody’s, the global credit rating firm, cited increased terror threats, domestic and geopolitical risks in their latest report.

READ: Tanzania grabs chance after Kenya terror dent

In the past month, security officers have intercepted a vehicle laden with six bombs at a police station in Mombasa, gunmen have killed six worshippers in a church in the same town, and two grenades were thrown into a food kiosk and a bus stop in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area killing six people.

“These [incidents] could severely affect the country’s economic growth, its capacity to create wealth, and its long term strength and shock-absorption capacity, further dampening the country’s prospect of attaining middle-income status by the year 2030,” says the report.

Jobs in Kenya’s tourism industry are predicted to fall to 588,500 in 2014, from 589,500, and then rise to 737,000 jobs in 2024, due insecurity and high taxation, the report states.

“Kenya is the most expensive tourist destination among its EAC peers now because of the VAT Bill; operators are struggling to operate because either they shoulder the burden or revise the terms of the bookings already made,” said Fred Kaigua, the chief executive officer of Kenya Association of Tour Operators.

Kenya’s Tourism Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie said international tourism numbers declined by seven per cent last year, with only 860,000 tourists visiting the country against the anticipated 925,000 between March and December.

“The insecurity incidents last year, including Westgate, negatively affected tourism performance as tourists perceive Kenya as an unsafe destination. The slump might continue this year given the prevailing insecurity incidents. We are carrying on a global campaign to keep the image positive,” said Ms Kandie.

Last week, the Australian government issued a travel advisory to its nationals following what it termed “terrorism incidents” in Kenya.

Experts said the country could lose up to 30 per cent of its bookings for 2014. The Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) has already confirmed some cancellations.

“The Mombasa incident will have an impact on tourism growth given the fact that the coastal region is our hot spot,” said KTB managing director Muriithi Ndegwa in an earlier interview with The EastAfrican.

Some of these cancellations could be diverted to the neighbouring countries of Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda with Tanzania. The four EAC member states have no VAT Bill in place. Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa do not charge VAT either.

Rwanda’s tourism industry attracted investments worth $217.7 million from January to October last year, up from $210.5 million in 2012.

WTTC projects that Tanzania rate of job creation this year will fall by 0.4 per cent in 2014, and rise by 2.2 per cent per annum to 500,000 jobs in 2024, due to major hotel investments over the next three years.

Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda are hoping to ride on the EAC single tourist visa launched this year.

Last week, the East African single tourist visa was launched in Washington DC by the ambassadors of Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda to US, to attract more tourists to the region.

READ: Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda envoys jointly woo US tourists

Ambassador Mathilde Mukantabana of Rwanda, Jean Kamau of Kenya and Oliver Wonekha of Uganda launched the visa at the embassy of Rwanda.

Experts from the three countries have already held discussions on a common single tourist visa application form.

“We hope the uniform application form will work as a marketing tool for us,” said Monique Mukaruliza, Rwanda’s national co-ordinator of the Northern Corridor Integration Projects.

Uganda Tourism Board CEO Stephen Asiimwe said the three countries have now sent the necessary documentation and stickers to offer tourists the single East African visa and that this is on working well. But the increase in tourists could also be achieved by encouraging visitors who come to Uganda to stay longer.

Burundi is also hoping to attract more tourists. Carmen Nigibira, the director general of the Burundi Tourism Office, said the country has rebranded.

“Our commitment is to work with both the public and private sector in Burundi to brand our country as a favorable tourism and investment destination,” Ms Nigibira said at the International Tourism Fair in Berlin last month.