Open visa scheme benefits Kenya in East African intra-tourism visits


Kenya stands as the leading tourist destination for East African intra-tourism, signaling benefits of an open visa program and open borders for visitors from neighboring states.

Visitor arrivals into Kenya from other states in East Africa have grown steadily in the past three years through an open visa scheme which Kenya had introduced to stimulate travel within the East African region.

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Reports from the Ministry of Tourism in Nairobi said there were combined arrivals of 95,845 visitors from Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda last year, up from 80,841 the previous year.

In 2015, there were 58,032 visitors that arrived to Kenya from these neighbor states.

“Uganda topped the list of Kenya’s top source markets in Africa, growing by 20.6 percent to 61,542 arrivals,” Kenya’s Tourism Ministry said in its sector performance report for last year.

Tanzania, the closer business partner with Kenya, had 21,110 visitors signed in Kenya, recording an impressive 21.8 percent last year to 21,110 compared to 2016. Visitors from Rwanda increased to 12,193 in 2017 from 11,658 the previous year.

Uganda saw its share in Kenya’s tourism arrivals nearly double in the past 3 years.

Data by Kenya’s Tourism Ministry showed that Uganda was Kenya’s third largest source market for tourism with an overall share of 6.4 percent last year compared to 3.9 percent in 2015 and 5.8 percent in 2016.

East Africa has implemented a multi-entry single tourist visa since February 2014. This visa enables visitors traveling in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda to travel across all the 3 regional member states using a single permit that can be obtained in any of these countries.

Tanzania and Burundi are not included in the open visa program, but business and tourist movements between Nairobi and Tanzanian cities – mostly Arusha, Mwanza, and Dar es Salaam – have been recording fast growth.

The contribution of visitor arrivals from East Africa helped grow Kenya’s overall tourism arrivals to 1.47 million last year, up from 1.34 million in 2016 although the numbers remained well below a peak of 1.83 million in 2011, reports said.

The increase saw Kenya’s revenue from tourism jump 20 percent last year. Revenue from tourism, one of Kenya’s main hard currency earners alongside tea and horticulture, totaled Kshs120 billion for 2017, Tourism Minister Najib Balala said.

“Kenya grew stronger in 2017 as a destination brand following positive visibility. This was achieved despite a busy electioneering season that threatened to slow down tourism activities,” Mr. Balala said.

Few African countries have adopted a visa free system for visitors from other African countries. Seychelles, Namibia, Ghana, Rwanda, Mauritius, Nigeria, and Benin have all adopted this no-visa policy over the past 2 years.

The African Union in 2016 also launched a continental passport as part of a strategy to encourage open borders.

Further, the Central African Economic and Monetary Community recently also reached a key pact making travel within the 6-member regional block, comprising Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, and Chad, visa-free and integration of central Africa a reality.

Traveling through African countries remain a nightmare to most foreign tourists from the United States and Europe.

African countries whose tourism development has been and is still moving at a snail’s pace and has failed to introduce a single visa to foreign visitors touring the continent, a situation which makes the potential for growth in African tourism to lag.

Rwanda is among the first, and a pioneer African nation, to advocate the single visa policy, looking to make tourism the country’s key economic sector.