The New Times (Kigali)

East Africa: How Feasible Is EAC Single Tourist Visa?

Photo: Business Daily
Kenyan tourism.

PLANS to have an East African Community (EAC) single tourist visa remain in balance as some partner states show signs of indifference with regard to adopting common policies necessary to spearhead the project.

Although it was initially envisaged as a fundamental initiative that would help attract more foreign earnings through increased tourists, some member countries seem to be dragging their feet in implementation.

Rica Rwigamba, in charge of Tourism and Conservation at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), could not tell exactly when the regional visa will start operating.

She said that delays by other member countries have derailed progress.

"Everybody would want to have it but there are some pre-requisite factors, especially harmonising immigration policies and ICT to help ease the process. We are pushing it but we realised it requires a lot of consultations because we need to be at the same level," she said.

Rwigamba explained that while Rwanda had made significant strides in use of ICT, there was need for the rest of the EAC partner states to move at the same pace if the trading bloc is to become a single tourist destination.

Initially, the single tourist visa had been planned to be operational by July 2012.

For instance, coming to Rwanda, one can apply for a visa online and get it, a facility that can hardly be found in other member states.

It is expected that the projected single visa would save potential tourists time and the rigorous process of having to jump from one embassy to the other to apply for different visas to travel across the East African region.

"Today travelers want to have a much wider menu. And it is easier to market the block as a single destination as opposed to one country. It means having features like the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda, Maasai Mara in Kenya, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, among others, all on one menu," she said.

The long procedures in acquiring visa by tourists, especially those from Europe, the Americas sometimes discourages them, forcing them to divert to other destinations.

The EAC Sectoral Council on Tourism and Wildlife Management has called on partner states to fast-track the introduction of the single EAC tourist visa, saying the process was taking unnecessarily too long.

The move to have the single EAC visa followed an appeal by tourism boards of the five partner states requesting for a common visa to accelerate promotion of the region as a single tourist destination.

Rwigamba, however, says that they expect to have hold negotiations at the ministerial level starting next year during which they will assess the recommendations and determine a way forward.

Tourism in east Africa is among the highest earners in terms of investments, with enormous employment opportunities.

In Rwanda, from January to September 2012 tourism is estimated to have generated US$210.5 million, compared to US$184.4 million it generated during the same period in 2011 - that represents an increase of 14 per cent.

The number of tourists from EAC member states and Democratic Republic of Congo also increased from 498,617 to 639,536.

The majority of the international tourists came from the United States of America, United Kingdom, Belgium and Germany, according to official figures.

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Some member countries are reportedly dragging their feet in implementing the single tourist visa, prompting questions over its feasibility. Read more »