EAC lays groundwork for single tourist visa

What you need to know:

  • The East Africa Tourism Platform is preparing a work plan for research and advocacy as it mulls establishing a single tourist visa and creating a single tourist destination for the seven-member regional bloc

Dar es Salaam. The East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP) is developing a work plan for research and advocacy to partner states on the East African Community (EAC) single tourist visa to help the sector thrive.

Mr John Bosco Kalisa, the executive director of the East African Business Council (EABC), stated that the new initiative is in line with a vision of developing a single tourist destination to boost the performance of the bloc’s tourism sector.

“Task groups have been created to produce a work plan for the research and piloting of a single tourist visa,” he said in a statement seen by this paper yesterday. EABC recommends that EAC bring the bloc’s tourist visas under its ambit by December this year, with a view to bringing all partner states on board.

“We need to streamline and simplify visa processes for international tourists visiting EAC member countries, enhancing regional tourism and fostering economic growth in the sector,” recommended Mr Kalisa.

He said the EAC partner nations of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have also increased their tourism and wildlife industry collaboration with a vision of creating a single tourist destination.

Tourism is one of the significant sectors in the EAC economy. The sector accounts for approximately 17 percent of total export earnings, 10 percent of total GDP growth, and seven percent of total employment opportunities in the region.

Tourism is one of the most important sectors in the EAC, having close links to transportation, food production, retail and entertainment.

EAC is one of the most popular tourist locations and offers numerous tourism investment opportunities. Mr Kalisa said the investment opportunities include the establishment of resort cities, the branding of premium parks and the construction of internationally branded hotels.

Others are the development of high-quality meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) tourist facilities and conference tourism facilities, as well as health and sports tourism.

EATP Regional Coordinator Yves Ngenzi told The Citizen that single tourist visas will boost tourist arrivals due to simplified visa processes, thereby boosting the tourism industry and related businesses in member countries.

He said as of the latest data from 2022, the EAC recorded around 5.8 million international tourist arrivals.

He added that it is essential to note that these figures may slightly vary as the data is continually updated.

In the context of the African tourism market, the EAC held a share of approximately 13.5 percent of the total international tourist arrivals in Africa, which stood at around 43 million last year, according to him.

As for the global market, the EAC accounted for nearly 0.7 percent of the 1.1 billion international tourist arrivals worldwide in the same year.

Mr Ngenzi said by streamlining the visa application process for international tourists, the EAC can create a more tourist-friendly environment.

This, he exuded his optimism, could potentially lead to an increase in tourist arrivals, as visitors would find it more convenient to explore multiple EAC destinations with a single visa.

“Simplifying the visa process would make the EAC more competitive compared to other tourist destinations in Africa and around the world,” said Mr Ngenzi.

He went on to add: “This could help attract a larger share of international tourists, thereby driving economic growth in the region.”

A tourism stakeholder, who requested anonymity, said a single tourist visa adds no value.

The latest National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data shows that the number of tourist arrivals in Tanzania rose to 1.45 million last year from 922,692 in 2021.

“In my opinion, it (the EAC single tourist visa) was relevant when the tourist had to get a visa manually; now most of the tourists coming to EAC countries are securing the visa online and hassle-free,” the credible source told The Citizen.

Also, he added, for the tourists who can afford to pay for a long-haul trip, the cost of the visa is immaterial given that it is on a reciprocity basis.

In the European context yes, because of the fact that people work in countries different from where they live hence a significant cross-border movement. “In our context, it is overtaken by technology; there is no reason to dwell in this,” he underscored.

In a quick rejoinder, Mr Ngenzi said: “It is essential to consider the broader benefits this initiative could bring to the region.”

Only Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have already entered the borderless borders partnership that has created the East Africa tourist visa which will allow travellers to enjoy all three countries with a single visa.

In a condition of anonymity, a senior source from Tanzania’s ministry of Foreign Affairs and East Africa Cooperation said the EAC single tourist visa is not something bad only if the agreed prerequisites will be taken into account.

The conditions agreed by member states about 10 years ago include, among others, harmonisation of visa regimes and developing a software infrastructure for tracking tourists.