opinionBy Isaac Sebakijje
Over the years, regional countries have attracted thousands of tourists. Presently, the East African Community has embarked on a strategy to promote the region as one single tourist destination.
This is a very progressive shift that is leading to the harmonisation of hospitality and tourism services, policies and laws with a positive economic impact for the region. In fact this is already being implemented by each nation's tourism ministry and coordinated by the East African Community Secretariat as well as The East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP). Ultimately, it will bring lasting success in uniting East Africa's often fragmented tourism sectors and doubling the region's number of international arrivals from the current five million to ten million in 10 years, according to experts.
Nonetheless, diversification of tourism will be the key to promoting the full potential of the industry in future to cater for different segments of the market. East Africa has embarked on marketing and promoting non-traditional services and products to lure more visitors and travelers. Industry leaders are intent on customising travel packages and hospitality services with fresh ideas for prospective tourists to the region. Some forms of new tourism approaches include but not limited to medical, sports, educational, rural, agricultural, culinary, meeting incentives conferencing and exhibitions (MICE), among others. The promotion of domestic tourism, through community awareness, is strongly advocated not only to boost the sector but also to dispel the perception that tourism is an exclusive preserve of foreigners.
As a result, Rwanda Development Board has been pro-active in diversifying tourism by introducing hiking along the 227 Kilometres Congo Nile Trail, and Canopy tourism in Nyungwe National Park, the first of its kind in East Africa. The country also has museums in addition to the mountain gorillas, along with the popular gorilla naming ceremony, locally referred to as Kwita Izina, which attracts many domestic and foreign tourists. The forthcoming development of more global five-star hotel chains, including Marriot Hotel as well as Sheraton and Hilton hotels in Kigali, promises to promote conference (MICE) tourism.
This same prospect applies to Burundi with the construction of a four-star Doubletree Hotel by the Hilton Group in Bujumbura, followed by other large American and European hotel brands. Burundi also offers many sporting activities such as water skiing, sailing, fishing, and swimming on Lake Tanganyika.
And, with over 10 national parks, Uganda is looking beyond gorilla tourism. Diversification efforts range from privately owned cultural museum, Igongo Centre near Mbarara to world class conference facilities in the country. Uganda has become a hub for adventure sports and white water rafting.
For Kenya, Masai Mara and over 50 national parks are simply appetisers for first time visitors. In addition to Kenyatta Conference Centre, conference tourism is being enhanced by the brand hotel entrants in the hospitality sector supported by the Kenya Hotelkeepers and Caterers Association. Golf and medical tourism are taking off and Eldoret is fast becoming a sports tourism resort in addition to other sports like horse riding, bull fighting and camel racing.
Tanzania's Serengeti national park and Mountain Kilimanjaro are no longer the only baits for visiting the country. Domestic tourism in Tanzania was kicked off in form of cultural tours supported by tour operators. The annual Kilimanjaro marathon as a sporting event continues to attract runners from over 50 countries in addition to Scuba Diving and other water sports. There are several world class conference facilities.
In a nutshell, that is innovative diversification of the industry. As Dr. Ian Yeoman of Victoria University of Wellington, Australia, put it, longevity is a key trend associated with the future of tourism. Tourists will search for experiences that hold back the wrinkles of old age, whether it is a spa treatment in Kenya or a medical procedure in Uganda. This is the new face of sustainable hospitality and tourism for the future that must be enhanced by visionary leadership and world class marketing.
The writer is an experienced hotelier and tourism professional