Arusha. The East African region anticipates 3.75 million foreign tourists this year, a 1.5 million rise from the 2.25 million last year. This is as efforts are under way to resurrect the multimillion dollar sector which was hit by the Covid-19 outbreak. Sources at the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat said tourist arrivals in the region reached a record 6.9 million in 2019 before the pandemic.
With the virus restricting travel to and within the region and around the globe, the visitors dropped sharply, reaching 2.25 million last year.
“This year (2021) we expect a total of 3.75 million tourists; that is 1.5 million more compared to last year,” said Simon Kiarie, a principal tourism officer. He said the rise in the number of visitors was a good sign that the industry was recovering from the adverse impact of the pandemic.
“The sector is picking up - thanks to deliberate efforts to diversify the products and source markets,” he told The Citizen in an interview.
The bulk of tourists from abroad to EA normally head for Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda - and only a few go to Burundi and South Sudan.
However, with the reported cases of the coronavirus in the region early last year, the region reported a huge drop in tourist arrivals and revenues.
A study by the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) said the region lost $4.8 billion in tourism earnings in 2020. The Nairobi-based think tank said that 2.1 million jobs in the tourism and hospitality sector were lost in the EAC from Covid-19.
This was a blow to tourism, being the leading economic sector in EA, contributing 10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 17 percent of export earnings and seven percent of jobs. Mr Kiarie was briefing The Citizen on the first EAC Regional Tourism Expo to be hosted by Tanzania at Arusha next month.
The event is expected to attract a record number of visitors to Arusha from around the region and abroad in post-Covid 19 times. These are to include 200 exhibitors from within the region, 200 travel agents from abroad, and local people.
“We are targeting a total of 4,000 people attending the Expo,” he said, noting that the event will take place at the TGT Grounds in the city.
The three-day exhibition will be held from October 9 to 11, followed by five days of visits to national parks in Tanzania by the participants.
“The aim is to promote EAC as a single tourism destination, intra-regional tourism and resilient tourism”, he explained.
Institutions roped in the preparations of the Expo include the national tourism boards in all the six partner states.
The East African Business Council (EABC) and the East African Tourism Platform (EATP) and other industry players will form the core of the organisers.