Uganda’s tourism players are reaching out to Kenya in a controversial bid to help bridge market access challenges for Kampala’s hospitality offers.
The players in Kampala see Kenya’s coastal exposure to the world as a starting point where tourists arriving in Kenya can go on to visit Uganda on the same visa while using Uganda Airlines as a connecting carrier.
But that could bring new threats to Kenya’s own local sites, as well as affect market share for Kenya Airways, which has for years dominated the Kenya-Uganda route.
But if this plan works, the proponents argue, Kenya and Uganda will mutually benefit, with Uganda profiting from Kenya’s networks to attract visitors. Kenya in the meanwhile will have its tourists visit Ugandan sites at a discounted price, which stakeholders say could break monotony for repeat clients who have explored Kenya.
Alex Tunoi, the regional manager in charge of domestic and Africa tourism at the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), said they are aware of the proposed deal, but downplayed its potential to eat Kenya’s lunch.
"East Africa market has great tourism potential for Kenya; with a population of over 200 million, a growing middle class, improved infrastructure and relaxation of travel restrictions. KTB is focused on growing arrivals from the region," he told The EastAfrican.
"Investment in these markets is bearing fruit with both Uganda and Tanzania emerging among top 10 key sources markets for the destination."
According to the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) Kampala will offer lucrative packages to tourists arriving at Kenya’s coastal sites to explore its natural, adventure, leisure, business and cultural attractions.
Uganda intends to balance trade with Kenya by working with coastal tourism stakeholders to tap into Kenya’s booming beach tourism.
The first package is set to go online later this year after deliberations from a conference between Uganda and Kenyan on November 17.
"The partnership will ensure thousands of tourists visiting either Kenya or Uganda move freely between the two countries. The tourists can have breakfast at the beach and lunch in a safari in Uganda," said Paul Mukumbya, Uganda’s Consul-General in Mombasa.
"The November conference in Mombasa will explore Uganda, ‘the Pearl of Africa,’ to give overview of the tourism attractions as well as specifying the investment opportunities in the tourism sector in Uganda and Kenya," he said.
Eased travel requirements
The two countries are banking on eased regional travel requirements for EAC citizens to improve the balance of trade by jointly promoting beaches and parks in the region.
Citizens of the two countries can use their national identity cards to cross borders while international tourists will use the East Africa single visa to tour the two destinations.
Besides, both countries belong to the one-tourism visa programme that also includes Rwanda. Tourists arriving in one country can use the same tourist visa to cross to the other.
The challenge in the past has been the transportation connectivity.
The plan now is to use Uganda Airlines to connect tourists from Mombasa to Entebbe but once Kenya Airways starts direct flights from the coastal city, Kenya Coast Tourist Association chairman Victor Shitakha says people will have more options.
Packages for bus trips
Uganda Airlines flies between Mombasa and Entebbe three times a week. However, officials say other airlines will not be locked out and they will go as far as selling packages for bus trips.
"The move will create networks and synergies and we are not in competition but we complement each other, where we shall come up with packages marketed together [and] sell both safari and beaches as one package. We are working with Kenya Tourism Board to make it happen," said Mr Shitakha.
Kenya remains Uganda’s biggest source market for tourists in the region, accounting for 29 per cent of total arrivals in 2018, the highest figure reported before the Covid-19 pandemic, according to figures by the Tourism Research Institute.
At least 95,000 Kenyans visit Uganda every three months, according to the Ugandan Consulate in Mombasa. It expects this figure to rise.
Last year, Kenya received 870,465 tourists compared to 567,848 in 2020, with the US leading as the major tourist source with 136,981 arrivals, followed by Uganda (80,067), Tanzania (74,051), the UK (53,264) and India with 42,159 visitors.
Before the pandemic, Uganda received over 1.5 million tourists in 2019 and registered over 512,000 travellers in 2020. However, the country’s tourism industry is poised for recovery with renewed emphasis on intra-African travel market as a key marketing strategy.
In 2019, the Tourism sector contributed 7.7 per cent of Uganda’s gross domestic product and created over 667,000 jobs.
Tourism data from 2019 shows that its top three Africa source markets include Rwanda (32 per cent), Kenya (24 per cent) and Tanzania at six per cent.