Regional players in the tourism industry are pushing for the establishment of the East African Community (EAC) as a single tourism destination, as part of the efforts to exploit the region's tourism potential.
This was the elephant in the room during the recently concluded 3rd EAC Regional Tourism Expo (EARTE'23) in Nairobi, Kenya.
Tourism leaders, and EAC partner states convened for the forum to create awareness of tourism investment opportunities and address the challenges affecting the tourism and wildlife sectors in the region.
A new EAC tourism brand, "Visit East Africa-Feel the Vibe," was also launched at the expo and aims to promote the region as a single investment hub.
"This year's theme, 'Tourism for Green Growth,' underscores our commitment to sustainable tourism. Kenya is set to introduce initiatives such as electric cars in parks and eco-rating schemes in our quest to propel tourism and our green growth agenda," Alfred Mutua, Kenya's Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary said.
He added that the platform was also an opportunity for the region to jointly showcase its unique resources.
Deputy Secretary General in charge of Trade at the EAC, Annette Ssemuwemba said annual tourist arrivals are expected to increase to about 14.05 million by 2025 from the 7.2 million recorded in 2019.
Deputy Prime Minister of Uganda and Minister for EAC Affairs, Rebecca Kadaga, said it was critical for the region to make use of its natural resources.
"Fast-tracking of the EAC single tourism visa is critical to sell the region as a single tourism investment hub. I also urge partner states to fast-track development of the EAC Tourism and Wildlife Protocol," she said
Diversification of products
Meanwhile, diversification of tourism products beyond traditional tourism attractions and joint promotion of the region is a catalyst to revamping the EAC region as a single tourism destination, experts said.
"As we diversify our tourism markets, increasing the range of our tourism product offerings is inevitable. Whereas we are quite competitive in terms of beach and wildlife safari tourism, we are urging all EAC partner states to diversify their tourism products," Kadaga added.
She pointed out that the EAC is collaborating with partner states to develop other products such as cultural tourism, sports tourism, agro-tourism, and golf tourism among others.
"We are developing multi-destination thematic tourism packages that will encourage visitors to travel to more than one EAC partner state in a single trip," she added.
For industry players such as Frank Muzungu, the Managing Director of Kigali Car Rentals and Tours, a local tour operating company, there is a success story after the Covid-19 pandemic toll.
"The economy suffered globally many of our colleagues closed shop due to the pandemic but we have witnessed recovery during this year and tourists have returned locally, regionally, and internationally and this will boost the economy and tourism business eco-system," Muzungu added.
Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for EAC, Peninah Malonza, hailed EAC partner states for their participation in the forum.