Kenya has barred Tanzanian vehicles from picking up or dropping tourists at its airports in response to complaints by its tour operators that cross-border operations by their rivals was hurting their business.
The ban, which came into force on December 22, has triggered uproar among Tanzania tour operators who rely on tourists coming through Kenya for about 40 per cent of their revenues.
The EastAfrican has learnt that the order was made after a meeting of the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) held on November 20, which discussed, among other things, the 1985 tourism pact between Tanzania and Kenya.
Under the agreement, businesses such as airport transfers are not allowed across borders. Tanzania has enforced the regulations by barring Kenyan tour operators across its border.
The KAA meeting resolved that the provisions of the agreement should similarly be applied by Kenya in retaliation.
On December 22, Kenyan authorities started barring Tanzanian vehicles from its airports.
It is estimated that 40 per cent of the one million tourists visiting Tanzania annually pass through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), earning Kenya $1.9 billion before crossing into the Tanzanian national parks.
Tanzanian drivers have lamented the inconvenience caused to their clients.
“Imagine tourists landing at JKIA in the wee hours and their their hosts are nowhere to be seen,” said Ruben Kiondo, a driver with Rainbow Shuttle Company. “We had to hire Kenyan taxis to ferry our visitors nearly 10km to where we parked our vehicles.”
Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Lazaro Nyalandu said Tanzania had written to Kenya to seek a way of resolving the dispute.
“We have never restricted operators from our northern neighbour to any area in Tanzania, save for national parks, as stipulated in the 1985 tourism agreement,” Mr Nyalandu said.
But Tanzania has denied Kenya’s tour operators access its to national parks through the Bologonja border point for 38 years now.
Bologonja, which lies between Tanzania’s flagship park Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve was, until the mid-1970s, a convenient route for tourists visiting the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Following the collapse of the first East African Community (EAC) in 1977, Tanzania closed its border points with Kenya for nearly seven years.
But Dar es Salaam reviewed the order in the mid-1980s and opened its main entry points to tourist traffic, save for the Bologonja border point, which remains closed to date.
The two countries signed the tourism co-operation agreement in 1985 following the November 16, 1983 Arusha Summit that agreed that only local operators would access all tourist attractions.
They agreed that tourists would be transported in and out of each country through designated border posts or regional towns.
Kenya’s entry points to Tanzania are Namanga, Sirari, Holili and Horohoro while Namanga, Isebania, Taveta, and Lungalunga are Tanzania’s entry points to Kenya.
As a result, tourists have to endure a five-hour drive from Maasai Mara via the designated Isebania-Sirari border point to Serengeti National Park.
Others drive back from Maasai Mara to Nairobi for an overnight stopover before proceeding to Arusha via Namanga.
Nairobi based Nahdy Travel & Tours Ltd managing director Faraj Abdalla says the border closure adds substantial costs on the Serengeti and the Mara packages.
“The requirement to have tourists change vehicles at Namanga, Sirari and Taveta does not only humiliate them, but is also a non-tariff barrier,” Mr Abdalla said.
With the revival of the EAC and the enforcement of the Common Market Protocol that provides for, among other things, free movement of goods, capital and labour, Kenyans hoped the Bologonja border would be open to tourist traffic, but Tanzania maintained that it would not sacrifice the fragile ecosystem and the World Heritage Site by shortening the route between Maasai Mara and Serengeti.