Dar es Salaam. With the East African Community single tourist visa, travellers can visit any of the countries in the region but not Tanzania and Burundi.
The two countries refused to join the system since it was effected in the beginning of 2014 with Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda going ahead with the initiative.
However, pressure is mounting from both public and private sector institutions for Tanzania and Burundi to join the initiative to make it easy for marketing the region as a single destination.
East African region has a vast range of natural attractions some of which are in the list of wonders of Africa.
Some players remarked publicly that Tanzania and Burundi should not think that “they are living in isolation” and that they needed the two countries to join the single tourist visa to reduce the cost of travelling to the region and therefore attract more visitors to East Africa as one destination.
The tourists nowadays pay $100 for a 90-day multiple entry visa that takes them to all the three countries instead of $150 that was required by each country. That makes it easy for the travellers to access the three countries and create a chance for them to spend money while touring diverse attractions in the region.
“Our brothers and sisters in Tanzania and Burundi should know that we are in one region and they should join us as we embark on regional efforts to market it as one destination,” said Mr Stephen Asiimwe, chief executive officer of Uganda Tourism Board at the start of the second Uganda Tourism Expo recently.
“They should know that we are not competing but complementing each other as we market the region,” said Mr Manzi Kayihura, the chairman of the East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP), a regional private sector body for tourism.
EATP promotes intra and inter-regional tourism through advocacy, marketing, skills development, research and information sharing.
Amos Wekesa, managing director of Great Lakes Safaris in Uganda also echoed the sentiments saying that “we need to market East Africa as a single destination for meaningful results to the public.” Uganda which targets to hit 1.5 million arrivals in the next five years, hosted about 40 buyers from across the world and took them for a trip in its tourism sites.
Uganda displayed its cultural attractions like the Batwa trail in Mgahinga and cultural performance at Ndere Centre which are not only active but also worth seeing.
The trip also involved some of the unique experiences like gorilla trekking, the endangered gentle which are found in Uganda and Rwanda.
The hosted buyers who included journalists, officials representing tourism boards and tour operators from within and outside the East Africa region could make comparison of the Uganda attractions with other countries.
Some of them started remarking that their respective home country attractions were better than that of Uganda or other countries in the region but others had an objective perspective.
After going through many different destinations with varying attractions, Walter Joe Syakalonga, director of the Lusaka-based Sigo Adventures and Tours, thinks all the East African countries have different potentials for attracting visitors.
“I have heard people trying to compare and sound like competing but I think it’s incorrect to compete within the region. Despite the fact that some attractions are in both countries, I think the experiences are different. Uganda and Rwanda have gorillars but with different experiences,” said the charming Walter.
“So, even when we market gorillas who are available in both Rwanda and Uganda or other products in Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi, we should say that the particular products are the same in all countries where they are available but with different experiences from each country,” he added after gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
The single tourist visa is also expected to go hand in hand with promoting the free movement of the EAC citizens by making them use their respective national IDs to cross borders and therefore target about 150-million population in the region.
Tanzania private sector speaks
While Tanzania government is still maintaining its stance to remain out of the single tourist visa system, the local private sector sees no reason to worry about it.
The private sector is asking the government to evaluate or conduct a study to establish how the system could increase or reduce revenue from tourist arrivals and decide, but it’s likely that arrivals will increase.
“Already Tanzania is expensive in its airports - making about 70 per cent of its arrivals to come through Kenya – the expensive visa is another cost which I think discourages travellers,” says Godfrey Simbeye, executive director of Tanzania Private Sector Foundation.
“Tanzania has so many attractions that every visitor who comes to the East African Community member states would like to see before they leave. So, even if revenue from visas will decrease, it will be compensated by increased arrivals of tourists who will spend a lot in hotels, to tour operators and therefore empower the business community which employs many Tanzanians,” says Mr Simbeye.
Chief executive officer of the Arusha-based Krisha African Safaris Ltd Mr Raju Modha, says he does not know how the visa revenue is shared among the countries but he knows that at least the single tourist visa will make entry processes for tourists easier.
“I think it makes it easy for tourists to pay for visa just at once and access five countries,” says Mr Modha who also participated in the Uganda Tourism Expo and the farm trip.