The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional organisation of 15 West African countries was established on 28 May 1975 with the main objective of promoting economic integration and cooperation among its members.
To what extent the sub-regional body has succeeded in promoting economic integration and cooperation among its members is yet to be seen as seamless air connectivity still remain an issue in the sub-region.
This is compounded by border restrictions and stringent control by Customs, Immigration and other agencies at the gateways.
Based on all these stringent control, restrictions and extortions, seamless travel and integration in West Africa has become a mirage.
It was against this background, that the organisers of Accra Weizo choose seamless Travel in West-Africa as the theme of the 2016 event to chart a way forward for the sub-region.
Deliberating at the recently concluded 2nd edition of the 2016 Accra Weizo in Ghana, the stakeholders mostly from Nigeria and Ghana and other African countries observed the need to eradicate all entry barriers militating against free movement in the sub- region, thereby promoting seamless travel in West African.
In his opening remarks, the organiser of Accra Weizo, Mr. Ikechi Uko stated that the one-day Travel Seminar, Awards, Exhibition was aimed at improving Travel and Tourism growth in West Africa through easy access to towns and cities in West Africa.
Uko noted that the importance of seamless travel in West Africa necessitated the need for the event to bring stakeholders in the sub -region together to deliberate on ways forward for West Africa.
According to him, “West Africa has a population of over 300 million from 15 Countries and over 40 Airports. Despite having the largest economy in Africa West Africa is very poor in Aviation matters compared to East, South and North Africa. It can not boast of a major Aviation hub not to talk of a super Airline. Every airline comes to West Africa to fill up their balance sheet yet the Airlines in West Africa struggle to maintain profitability. Taxes and policy hurdles cripple profitable operations in West Africa”.
He said East Africa has done better, adding that there is need to learn from their experience.
In his contribution, as a member of the panel of discussants, the National President of the Nigeria Travel Agencies, NANTA, Mr. Bankole Bernard advocated the setting up of a West African Tourism Board to propel the growth of travel and tourism within the sub region.
Mr. Bernard stated that the West African Travel Board will help the sub region to increase the awareness of travelling within the West Coast and make business a lot better.
Bernard said the sub region will be engaging themselves more by taken advantage of the sub-region’s potential and population.
Similarly, the chief executive officer, CEO of Pacific Tours, Kwesi Eyison who is also a member of the panel in his remarks stressed the need for intra African collaboration in the area of travel and tourism to accelerate the pace of growth and development in the sub- region.
The trade relations manager of South African Tourism, Mohammed Tanko Kwajaffa who represented the regional manager, Hloni Pitso emphasised that West Africa is a vibrant market for South African Tourism.
Speaking on “South African Tourism experience in West Africa” Pitso stressed that it was because of the vibrancy of the sub-region’s market that necessitated the opening of the West African office in Lagos, the first office outside South Africa to effectively carter for the needs of the market.
The regional manager of SA tourism explained that the strategic importance the tourism body attached to the West African market is responsible for why it is always organising roads shows, workshops to always update their trade partners on what is on offer in South Africa.
In his presentation at the event on Integrating Airport Operations in West Africa, the vice chairman of Skyway Aviation Handling Company Ltd. Mr. Chike Ogeah disclosed that the company has concluded arrangements to expand its operations to Liberia and also Ghana in West Africa.
He said SAHCOL is set to bid for two airports as the federal government concludes arrangements to concession four of the most vibrant Nigerian airports in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt.
He maintained that airport communications helps network airport infrastructure by ensuring a safe and secure space, while allowing passengers and operators to move freely around the airport.
Mr. Ogeah noted that worldwide, Airport is a capital-intensive business.
He listed the major challenges faced by passengers at airports to include, Long queues during check in, baggage drop off and security screening, difficulty in finding the right flight, delayed delivery of checked in baggage, lost and mishandled baggage, among others not receiving relevant information in time.
In her presentation, which was widely applauded, the coordinator of East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP), Carmen Nibigira observed that the success of destinations will always come from a vibrant private sector complementing each other and not competing with each other
She maintained that tourism has to be translated into economic case or sense coupled with data and figures to make the desired impact.
The coordinator of East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP) explained that the vision of East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP) is to create “ a vibrant and diverse single tourist destination providing exceptional experiences, including promoting intra and inter-regional tourism through advocacy, marketing, skills development, research and information sharing”
Nibigira maintained that the core objective of the platform is to Provide positive and results oriented policy lobbying and advocacy.
She outlined EATP advocacy agenda to include: Single EAC Tourist Visa and other immigration reforms to facilitate ease of movement, liberalisation/free movement of tourism services, open skies policy and improved air and road infrastructures, sector specific tax reforms and incentives like harmonised VAT and Levies, harmonised standards and codes of conduct of tourism facilities and services, harmonised policy for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wildlife and other tourism resources.
She also listed the obstacles to inter and intra- regional tourism in EAC to include, compliance with different standard policies costly, separate marketing of tourism products and destination, lack of national and regional trademark tourism products, reluctance to fast track tourism integration, protectionism of national air spaces/ national carriers, lack of adequate road, air and ICT infrastructure, competitiveness (Value for money and products) and harmonisation of standards – Slow process.
According to her, applications for this visa shall be lodged at any of the diplomatic representation of the Republic of Kenya, Republic of Rwanda and Republic of Uganda, at the Immigration Offices of the respective countries or online where applicable.
Nibigira explained that “a foreigner who wants to visit simultaneously the Republic of Kenya, Republic of Rwanda and Republic of Uganda for tourism. The visa will be issued at any of the diplomatic representations of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, at the immigration offices of the respective countries or on-line where applicable. (Online application is available for Rwanda)”
She disclosed that the East Africa Tourist Visa is a multiple entry visa and shall be valid for 90 days with a Visa Fees of $100.
In her words, “the East Africa Tourist Visa is a multiple entry visa for foreigners visiting Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda simultaneously. This visa is a result of a joint initiative made by the Heads of States of the respective partner countries to boost regional tourism and create opportunities for tourists to explore the diversity of East Africa.
Nibigira stated that a special consideration has been given to expatriates (foreign residents) residing in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. They do not need a visa to travel within the three partner states; all they need is a valid resident permit.
The president of Nigerian Tour Operators, NATOP and chairman of Remlord Tour and Car Hire Services, Nkereuwem Onung stressed the need to take our tourism sector seriously by learning from South Africa with RETOSA and East Africa with EATAP.
Mr. Onung stressed the need for the country’s tourism policies to be strengthened, adding that Nigeria needs to lead the way in making travel seamless in West Africa.
The panel discussion was moderated by, Mrs Tourism United Nations, Ebele Enemchukwu .