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East Africa

EAC ministers slow tourist visa

Jun 25, 2008

East African Community (EAC) ministers in charge of immigration are yet to meet to consider a proposal for a common tourist visa-a proposal, which if adopted, would bring to the fore benefits of marketing East Africa as a single travel package.

Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda's state-run tourism agencies already market East Africa at international fairs as a single destination but failure by immigration bosses to make progress on the adoption of the proposal, has failed an unprecedented move that would boost revenues and tourist numbers.

"We are still studying the proposal. Issues like how we will share revenues and the like because there are a lot of financial implications," a Uganda immigration official told an East African consultative meeting on facilitation of air transport last week in Uganda's eastern town of Jinja. No progress has been made in Tanzania as the immigration bosses there are yet to meet to even consider the proposal.

The proposal was mooted by the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) more than three years ago.

In Kenya, the situation is the same as is the case in Tanzania, but there are plans to introduce visa stickers.

The EAC Council of Ministers, which is the designated decision-making authority on all matters that touch on the sovereignty, revenue, policy and immigration matters, is the organ that will ultimately adopt the joint visas for tourists.

A single tourist visa would allow tourists to travel through a series of endless borders to sample the unique attractions that East Africa has to offer.

The EAC Secretariat has listed the single tourist visa among its foremost future plans and had initially hoped that it would have been agreed upon by the five states, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania by November 2006.

Tourists continue to demand to sample the entire array of tourist attractions spread across the region, from Mombasa's breathtaking beaches, Tanzania's Ngorogoro Crater, the chimpanzee parks in Tanzania and Uganda and Rwanda's mountain gorillas. While the technocrats are still considering the proposal, their reluctance to agree on a joint visa for tourists, has, however not crippled the joint promotional activity.

The strategy has been applied during international tourism exhibitions where tents of all the five member states have been placed close to each other. According to the plan, a tourist would apply for a visa in any one of the five states and would travel uninterupted to all the countries.

Tourist boards from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are the joint inventors of the plan, a crosscutting measure, which aims to standardise all tourism facilities in the region, including hotels and other tourism facilities.

Tanzania's Tourist Board (TTB) favours a system where member countries market their tourist attractions independently with a joint banner bearing common features designed by the EAC Secretariat on the background of the booths. These initiatives are aimed at ensuring decisions made by the Council of Ministers on promotion and cooperation in tourism are implemented. Tanzania is Kenya's most serious competitor as a destination for foreign tourists after the US followed by the UK and South Africa.

Uganda also ranks among the top 10 destinations in the world with a 6.2% preference level compared with the 21.7% who prefer to travel to the US. Tanzania is closer at 17.5%. These rankings are a powerful indicator that the East Africa region has potential to become one of the world's biggest global attractions as a single package rather than a disjointed bloc.

EAC ministers slow tourist visa

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