An extraordinary meeting of the East African Community (EAC) Sectoral Council on Tourism and Wildlife was convened July 15, to consider, among others, the bloc's Covid-19 tourism recovery plan, regional guidelines for resumption of services in the tourism sector and hospitality establishments.
The meeting which was conducted through video conference also considered a draft EAC tourism marketing strategy (2021-2025), as well as the concept note on the EAC Regional Tourism Expo, scheduled to be held in Arusha, Tanzania, October.
The annual EAC Regional Tourism Expo (EARTE) is being introduced with the aim of improving the visibility of the region and marketing it as a single tourist destination.
According to the EAC Secretariat, the Ministers led by Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, Najib Balala, considered and approved all the documents tabled before them; including the sector's recovery plan.
Balala underscored the importance of the Partner States working together especially in addressing the impact of the pandemic on the tourism sector and in joint tourism recovery efforts.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has taught all of us some really important lessons. For instance, domestic and regional tourism markets are really key and they can help in making the tourism sector resilient in case of future disasters and pandemics," Balala added.
"The pandemic has revealed that we can use technology to connect with each other and have meetings such as this. It is therefore really important that we invest heavily in infrastructure and connectivity."
Peter Mathuki, the EAC Secretary General, said that the tourism sector was one of the most important areas of cooperation for EAC owing to its contribution to the economies of the Partner States in terms of GDP (about 10%), export earnings (17%) and jobs (about 7%).
"Its multiplier effect and linkages with other sectors that are instrumental in our integration such as agriculture, transport and manufacturing are quite immense. However, the travel and tourism sector, globally, was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic more than any other economic sector," Mathuki said.
Based on statistics reported by the Partner States, Mathuki noted, as a region, "we lost close to 70% of international tourist arrivals in 2020" coupled with massive losses in tourism earnings and tourism related jobs.
According to the UNCTAD report published on June 30, the crash in international tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic could cause a loss of more than $4 trillion to the global GDP for the years 2020 and 2021.
Mathuki added: "The signs this year are still bleak given the recurrent waves of the pandemic that result in imposition of unpredictable measures and restrictions by Governments around the world from time to time."
Mathuki said that whereas individual countries had initiated tourism recovery efforts, it would be helpful for the region to come together to implement joint actions aimed at the recovery of the sector as well as laying a strong foundation for its future development.
Some EAC countries already instituted measures such as formulation of stimulus packages aimed at re-igniting the sector and supporting tourism investments.
The Ministers agreed that there was a need for a collective and coordinated approach towards tourism sector recovery that entails interventions aimed at reinforcing the measures being developed and implemented at national levels.
Christophe Bazivamo, the EAC Deputy Secretary General in charge of the Productive and Social Sectors, noted that strengthening of the intra-regional tourism was now imperative given the fact that this segment was resilient and likely to recover faster than the overseas markets.
"Bolstering of both domestic and regional tourism can help keep the tourism industry afloat, therefore sustaining the much-needed jobs and income along the entire tourism value chain," Bazivamo said.
The Ministers also agreed that there was a need for harmonized guidelines for resumption of the tourism and hospitality services in the region. These, they observed, would help in ensuring coherence in resumption of tourism services and help in rebuilding trust and confidence with international tourists visiting the region.
The approved regional tourism marketing strategy, seeks to position the region as the best and most affordable regional tourism destination in Africa.
Strategic directions and corresponding strategic actions in the strategy include developing regionally and internationally competitive multi-destination tourism products; and positioning and marketing EAC as a leading regional tourism destination in Africa. Branding East Africa as a leading tourism destination; enhancing the marketing policy and institutional framework, and enhancing EAC tourism marketing and promotion financing, are also key.