Rwanda: Regional Tourism Body Mulls New Campaign to Revive Covid-19 Hit Sector

13 September 2021

The Kigali-based East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP) will on Wednesday, September 15, launch a three-month campaign dubbed "Tembea Nyumbani", in four East African Community (EAC) partner states - Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, in a new bid to spur regional tourism.

Tembea Nyumbani, Swahili for Visit Home, is a call to EAC citizens to visit each other's countries - in an effort to promote domestic and regional tourism business in the four countries.

Yves Ngenzi, the EATP Coordinator, on Monday told The New Times that the campaign is "long overdue" and it comes to try address the challenges faced due to the impact of the pandemic on international travel.

Ngenzi said: "In a big way, ours are tourism-dependent countries. We are, therefore, compelled to find new and creative solutions to this unpredictable crisis. And since international travellers are unable to visit en-masse as they used before the pandemic, we are focusing on domestic and or regional tourists."

Undertaken in partnership with stakeholders, the campaign will promote different tourist packages within the region. It aims to spur tourism business in the region by showcasing the "many hidden gems" as well as affordable and exciting holiday packages that can be explored in what "the world has come to know as Africa's magical destinations."

According to the EATP, it is expected that an increase in interest to travel within the region will revive the tourism industry which is a lifeline for millions of people.

Jeannette Rugero Murekatete, a Rwandan tour guide and driver who has been in tourism industry since 2016, said "it's very good opportunity for east Africa and ourselves as tour guides."

Two million jobs lost

As noted, before the pandemic, the tourism sector had become one of the most lucrative but the pandemic brought it to its knees. Before Covid-19, tourism contributed to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of EAC countries by an average of 9.5% in 2019. It contributed an average of 17.2% to EAC total exports and 7.1% to employment.

Research shows that EAC countries lost international tourism receipts to the tune of $4.8 billion in the year 2020. In terms of impact on employment, it is estimated that 2 million tourism jobs in the region were lost.

"Efforts to deal with challenges associated with Covid-19 on domestic and regional tourism should focus on the long-term, beyond the pandemic, in order to enable the industry to revive and thrive sustainably to withstand future shocks," reads part of a related press release.

"The EAC has a lot to offer in terms of products and attractions, with its enormous untapped tourism and hospitality potential."

Teddy Kaberuka, a Rwandan economist, welcomes the initiative as something that will boost the regional tourism sector if well packaged.

He said: "It is a very good initiative that is bringing an alternative for the country's which relied on international tourism. It will require other adjustments of the tourism sector because we know how the prices are very high because the standard was targeting international or foreign tourists with high levels of incomes.

"Our experts who are now focusing on the domestic and regional tourists need to re-package the tourism portfolio and revisit their pricing and packages so that domestic and regional tourists can afford. I am sure it will be successful because our region is full of many beautiful attractions and this is a good opportunity."

Different discounted packages for East Africans will be available on the Tembea Nyumbani online platform. The site will feature various tourist attractions, culinary experiences, tour offers and diverse travel experiences in the EAC. It will facilitate people to navigate and find a range of offers within the region and enable business owners to connect with customers easily.

According to the CEO of the Tourism Confederation of Tanzania, Richard Rugimbana, the tourism economy is at a crossroads.

Rugimbana said: "The coronavirus has heavily hit it, but this pandemic also brought us opportunities to explore new markets, open up new destinations, encourage innovation as well as think new and sustainable tourism development models."

"The crisis is an opportunity to think about the present and the future. With the hard-hitting decline in international arrivals and recovery to pre-crisis levels not expected before 2023, Tembea Nyumbani will provide the much-needed boost to help sustain our region's many tourism destinations and businesses. Besides promoting domestic and regional tourism, this campaign will be a key driver of business recovery in the short to medium term."

"Recently, we re-introduced the www.visiteastafrica.net portal where tourists can plan and book tour packages and offers from service providers in the region. This is an addition to a great achievement of the East Africa Tourism Platform and its commitment to continue offering value to its members."

More than 830 regional tour operators and travel agents will now be able to market and sell their packages through Tembea Nyumbani. More travel operators are welcome to join the platform, at no cost, by registering through their respective country tour associations.

Anataria Karimba, Director Business Competitiveness at TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), said: "A return to pre-Covid-19 international tourist arrival levels may seem far off as travel restrictions still hold. However, this should encourage us as Partner States to work together in addressing the impact of the pandemic on the tourism sector and in joint tourism recovery efforts."

"Tourism is one of the world's major economic sectors, and the current crisis is an opportunity for us to rethink how we do things. One of the vital lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic is that domestic and regional tourism markets are very important. In such situations, they can help make the tourism sector resilient. We need to focus more effort on developing many creative and innovative packages for domestic and regional tourism. Tembea Nyumbani is long overdue."

jkaruhanga@newtimesrwanda.com

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