Kenya has re-ignited its vision for a ‘Coalition of the Willing’ arrangement with Uganda and Rwanda as the three nations signed a pact for joint tourism marketing to increase the number of international and regional visitors. Tourism ministers from the three countries have structured a single travel document that will allow foreign visitors to roam across borders without attracting extra visa charges.
Cost of acquiring the document, to be known as Uni-Visa, has been reduced by 33 per cent to $100 (Sh10,000) to woo more tourists from traditional source nations. Kenya is targeting to hit its own target of three million tourists annually through the initiative. “Movement across East Africa has been the greatest obstacle.
We want our countries to be visited by more international tourists,” said Tourism Cabinet secretary Najib Balala in Nairobi yesterday. Domestic tourists will use their national identification documents to roam across the countries. Uptake of the East Africa single visa has been slow, attracting only 4,000 tourists because of poor promotion of the product, said the CS.
Partner countries will develop their own products and list key destinations for marketing under a single portal that will be created before end of the year.
The agreement was signed by East Africa Tourism ministers and key stakeholders, including State-owned marketing agencies from the three nations, in Naivasha earlier in the week. Kenya was represented by Balala and Kenya Tourism Board acting chief executive Jacinta Nzioka.
Uganda’s Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities minister Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, Rwanda Development Board chief tourism officer Belise Kariza, East Africa Tourism Platform chairman Bonifence Byamukama and Uganda Tourism Board chief executive Stephen Asiimwe were also part of the team.
Kenya draws most of its visitors from Uganda at 50,000 annually, while Tanzania (30,000), Ethiopia (20,000) and Rwanda (10,000) contribute most of the others, with total regional arrivals to Kenya placed at 120,000.
The latest move is seen as Kenya’s strongest bid to revive the deal that has recently suffered blows with allies opting to take different directions to pursue economic growth prospects.
Uganda, for instance, opted to partner with Tanzania instead of Kenya for an oil pipeline while Rwanda pulled itself out of the Standard Gauge Railway project, leaving Uganda and Kenya.
“We are optimistic we will see power of the unity, nothing stops the movement,” said Balala. Under the Coalition of the Willing arrangement, the three economies agreed to help each other in infrastructure, tourism, telecommunication and defence projects in East Africa’s Northern Corridor.
Kenya’s tourism ministry acknowledged implementation of a borderless corridor will not be easy, saying it requires goodwill to motivate other EAC states to join. “Kenya is the home of champions, known for its marathon. You require pace, if you move fast you get tired quickly; we are still waiting for Tanzania,” said Balala.
Meanwhile, Tanzania has dealt Kenya another blow by distancing itself from the common visa launched between Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.
The common visa is meant to, among other things, enable the members states to jointly market their tourism as a single product.
Tanzania also wants nothing to do with the joint marketing strategies pushed by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and will not participate in the East African tourism platform events being pushed for by the neighbours.
The joint visa has been issued to 4,000 tourists who will be visiting the three countries, now dubbed ‘the coalition of the willing’.
In a media briefing Wednesday, Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said Tanzania was wary of competition from Kenya.
“Tourists who will be moving between the three countries that form the coalition will now be using a common visa that will be charged at $100 (Sh10,122) instead of $150 (Sh15,183) that each country charged before,” Mr Balala said.
“The coalition of the willing has also agreed to have a common East Africa stand at the world Travel Market to be held in London on November 7. The stand has been dubbed ‘borderless East Africa’, but Tanzania will not be part of it,” he added.
However, Balala asserted that if the three East African countries want to move on with a regional cooperation pact on tourism, nothing will stop them and hoped the latest joint strategy will motivate Tanzania to join in.
Balala said the problem with the East African region is that countries live with “a fear of the unknown”. He called on the country’s neighbours to look at each other not as competitors, but as friends complementing each other. “Our competitors are the Caribbean countries and the Far East. We shouldn’t compete among ourselves,” Balala said. “I want to encourage Tanzania to join us. Our doors are open,” he added.
At the same time, the CS gave the numbers of tourist arrivals from the region, which indicated Tanzania’s numbers had shrunk compared to Uganda.
“From Uganda, we had 50,000 arrivals. From Tanzania we had 30,000, while we had 25,000 from Ethiopia. We are yet to get numbers from Rwanda and Burundi,” Balala said.
The latest development comes just months after Tanzania declined to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between EAC and European Union (EU).
A number of officials at the Secretariat were apparently at a loss on learning of Tanzania’s U-turn on EPA, which was announced in Dar es Salaam by the neighbouring country’s Foreign Affairs permanent secretary, Aziz Mlima.
The EPA deal, which would have allowed commodities from East Africa to access European markets duty-free, was opposed by Tanzanian authorities who argued the EPA deal would not benefit local industries and needed time to consult widely.
Again in May this year, Kenya was left in bewilderment when Tanzania lured Uganda to withdraw its earlier decision to connect its oil pipeline with Kenyan oil fields in Lokichar, all the way to Lamu port, instead favouring the Tanzanian route linking the oil fields to Tanga port.
Rwanda too opted to develop a rail link to Indian Ocean ports through Tanzania, abandoning Kenyan route. All these decisions have pointed to an alleged cold relationship between Kenya and Tanzania.
Source: standardmedia.co.ke , mediamaxnetwork.co.ke