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East African Community to get Single Tourist Visa

Mother's Love<br>Mountain Gorillas in East Africa

Mother's Love
Mountain Gorillas in East Africa

Sunday 3RD October , 2010

The much-touted single tourist visa for the East Africa partner states will take sometime to materialise, industry sources have told The Citizen.

The partner states are still consulting on the matter with a possibility of a trial visa introduced first, as they try to harmonise their tourism policies and laws.

Sources close to the East African Community (EAC) secretariat, said a task force appointed to study the region's preparedness for a single tourist visa would present its report in June. The secretariat is reported to have approached the partner states seeking information from the immigration departments on visa regulations and visa statistics from major tourism market countries.

Sources added, that there was a likelihood of starting with a trial single visa in June this year, to determine whether EA was ready to introduce a single tourist visa for the region. Experts working on the matter want visitor statistics from the sample countries that will participate in the suggested trial visa before the actual document is introduced.

Major source markets for tourists coming to EA include United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Australia, Japan, Italy, Netherlands, South Africa and Scandinavian countries. Also sought is information on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems used by the partner states to network with various centres such as border points and embassies.

Recently, stakeholders in the tourism sector based in Arusha faulted government officials of EAC member states for delayed single tourist entry visa for the region. They claimed that although leaders have always expressed their keenness to have the document in place to facilitate movement of visitors, very little was taking place on the ground.

Tourists visiting the region often spend many hours when crossing borders from one EA state to another because they had different visas for each country on their passports. A Karatu-based hotelier told The Citizen recently that thousands of tourists visiting the region are often stranded on borders for many hours in the absence of joint entry visa.

The EAC under its sectoral council on tourism and wildlife management, has also appointed two more technical teams to develop branding strategies and harmonise policies and laws in the sector. One of proposals made recently was that East African nationals visiting tourist sites in sister states should be accorded preferential rates.

The move, under which EA citizens would be charged less for park entry fees and hotel/lodge accomodation than foreign visitors, aims to encourage intra-regional trade and cross border visits. EAC secretariat says the move has started being implemented in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya and that it would be extended to Burundi and Rwanda soon.

"Rwanda is finalising negotiations with the private sector for discounted accomodation rates and this will be implemented soon," said an official the secretariat. Burundi, which alongside with Rwanda joined the regional economic bloc in July 2007, has been urged to expedite the process. "Burundi should introduce East African rates accordingly," he said at the end of EAC sectoral council on tourism and wildlife management meeting here.

It was emphasized that the Arusha-based secretariat should facilitate harmonisation of policies and laws governing the sector in the region. Officials from the five partner states also emphasized joint marketing and branding of EAC as a single tourist destination. They also called for increased funding of marketing and promotion to make the region more competitive in the world tourism markets.

International tourism fairs were cited as the relevant platforms where promotional events are to be undertaken. Most favoured tourism fairs where EA normally featured include ITB Berlin, World Travel Market in London, Indaba, Durban in South Africa, FITUR in Spain and others.

"The secretariat should undertake a study to harmonise tourism policies as well as assess the viability of introducing concessional park entry fees,"the officials emphasized. For many years EA region attracts many of its tourists from Europe and North America. However, of late there has been increased visitors from the Far East and South Africa.

The East African Legislative Assembly, currently meeting in Kampala, Uganda, last week passed the East African Community Tourism and Wildlife Management Bill, 2008 which seeks to strengthen cooperation framework in the sector. The Bill proposes establishment of a commission to coordinate the development of the sector in the region as well as harmonising national policies, laws, regulations and standards concerning tourism and wildlife management.

The Commission shall be responsible for the overall supervision, coordination and management of all matters that relate to the promotion and marketing of the tourism and wildlife industry in the region. The new body would be accountable to the EAC Council of Ministers, the policy organ of the Community, and would be based in any of the five member state as the council shall determine.

The Commission is expected to put in place a mechanism to mitigate the challenges facing the region's tourism and wildlife industry, which include high marketing costs, fierce competition and fragility of the region's tourism base.

It would also take due consideration of the overall development needs of the people, the wildlife resources and other natural and cultural resources for which the region is endowed with.

EA region is one of the leading tourism hotspots in Africa alongside with North Africa and southern Africa and receives close to four million tourists from abroad a year. The EA Tourism and Wildlife Management Bill, 2008, will now be submitted to the EAC heads of State for assentment in accordance to Article 62 of the EAC Treaty.

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