The East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP), the top private sector body for tourism in the region on Tuesday, October 20, advocated for harmonized reopening protocols in partner states.
This is to allow east Africans and international tourists to take advantage of attractions in the region and discover the hidden treasures.
The call was made during a press conference in Kigali, shortly after handing over of the baton between the Kenya Tourism Federation as outgoing host of the EATP secretariat and the Rwanda Chamber of Tourism, the incoming host of the secretariat.
Fred Odek, the outgoing EATP Chairperson, noted that it is important to have harmonised protocols including health or safety measures now in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Odek said: "If Rwanda is testing two times, for example, and Kenya more, why can't we have this harmonised? The same goes for isolation."
"We are looking at ways to harmonise protocols; without having harsh conditions, work out a way to ease travel in East Africa, because easing travel is easing doing business."
The platform is encouraging east Africans to travel within their countries and the region.
According to Susan Ongalo, the platform's chief executive officer, they are looking more at "regional domestic tourism" where people travel using national IDs.
She said: "As we hand over to the Rwanda Tourism Chamber we hope and are confident that EATP is growing farther."
Odek stressed that there is a need to unlock the challenges associated with the Covid-19 pandemic to tourism to enable the industry to thrive.
Odek said handing over the baton to the Rwanda Tourism Chamber also marked a very significant step in the revitalization of the EATP.
The platform is working with key stakeholders in the industry to ensure recovery from the effects of Covid-19.
If there was ever a period for the region to cooperate for economic gains, wellbeing and safety of its people, now is without a doubt the right time, said David Butera, Programme Manager at TradeMark East Africa (TMEA).
Butera said: "Cooperation will determine the course of regional tourism."
Frank Mugisha, Director General of the Rwanda Chamber of Toursim, said he is ready to take the regional tourism platform to the next level.
It was noted that the regional tourism platform will develop special tour packages for the region. These will cover both the airfare, attractions, accommodation with attractive rates.
More about region's tourism sector
As noted, the significance of travel and tourism to EAC partner states economies cannot be overemphasized.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism in East Africa contributed an average of 8.1% to GDP and 17.2% to export earnings and generated 7.1% of employment. As regards employment, tourism employed about 1,278,000 direct and 1,981,000 indirect jobs in partner states.
Tourism in the region has taken a severe blow, with the sector expected to face 92 per cent decline in cash flows due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report by the East Africa Business Council.
As noted, regional tourism has long relied on international travellers, but cannot bank any longer on traditional key source markets like North America and Europe. This is why the regional platform is attaching importance to EAC capitalizing on the use of national ID and expatriate travel.
Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania earned the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) global health and safety stamp, and are therefore designated as "safe travels" destinations.