By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI
OUTSOURCING: Countries also pledged to each task a private public relations firm to help in the marketing of the countries’ tourism sites.
PROGRESS SO FAR: Only Rwanda has hired a private PR firm to handle its marketing. Uganda is in the process of hiring one and has already advertised the tenders. Kenya is yet to act.
COSTS: The single tourism visa costs $100 and grants tourists a 90-day validity period with no room for extension.
Tour firms recently proposed a review of the visa to allow 30 days of free movement for expatriates within the region.
The uptake of the single tourist visa launched jointly by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda is being undermined by the failure by Tanzania to buy into the idea of marketing East Africa as one tourism destination.
According to tourism stakeholders, the number of tourists visiting the region as a circuit would rise if Tanzania, the lead destination in the region, joined in the initiative.
“Currently, Tanzania receives more tourists than Kenya and has more and better sites than any other partner state. Therefore, if the country were to join hands with the other member states, then we would likely to see more tourists coming into the region especially to the Mara then Serengeti National park,” said Waturi Matu, the co-ordinator of the East African Tourism Platform.
She added: “Kenya is known for its Big Five Safaris while Tanzania is best known for its tree-climbing lions. A tourist would prefer travelling to these two destinations on a single tourist visa through Kenya for the safari then cross over to Tanzania to spot the tree climbing lions.”
But Tanzania has categorically stated that until security concerns are addressed, it is not ready to be part of the single tourist visa. The country also wants the issue of how revenues will be split addressed and infrastructure put in place.
“Security in the region is not good. For example, Kenya is prone to Al Shabaab attacks; if a tourist gets a visa from Tanzania and has security problems in Kenya, who will be blamed?” Tanzania’s EAC Deputy Minister Abdullah Juma said in an interview.
A recent report shows that since the launch of the single tourist visa on February 20, only 1,560 have been sold. The number is projected to rise by nine per cent in 2015 if insecurity, and the issue of high cost of airfares and hotel ratings are addressed.
According to Ms Matu, the high cost of air travel across the region is hurting the growth of the tourism industry.
“Flying across the East African Community is too expensive compared with other regions across the continent and globally,” said Ms Matu, adding that a tourist would rather pay $100 more to South Africa than fly to the three East African countries which will cost him/her almost three times the cost to South Africa.
Flying from one of the EAC countries to another costs between $220 and $350 minus taxes, for a return trip. Ms Matu blamed the high costs on the absence of uniform airspace policies and high airport parking fees.
EAC air transport is governed by the Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASAs) negotiated between the different EAC countries.
The current BASAs, however, have restrictions on designated routes (route schedule), which in most cases include departure from one party’s international (mainly capital city) airports to the other contracting party’s international airport or capital city; cabotage rights (the transport of goods or passengers between two points in the same country by an aircraft registered in another country), which are not provided; designation of beneficiary airlines; conditions such as the requirement for substantial ownership and effective control of the designated airline being vested in the contracting party or its nationals.