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Single EAC visa excites London tourist fair

By Our Reporters

Uganda scores major successes

On November 10, Uganda’s Trade minister Janat Mukwaya, Kenya’s Najib Balala, Shamsa Mangunga of Tanzania, and Monique Nsanzabaganwa, the Rwanda chairperson addressed a press conference on the fringes of the 2008 World Travel Market (WTM), to announce their decision to make the EAC a single Visa destination.

The story became an instant big hit among international tour operators.

The Telegraph of the UK headline was: ‘Tourists to roam free in East Africa’. It was followed by headlines like:’ Simpler Safaris’ in The Times of South Africa and  East African nations to get single visa’ in Safarigorrillas.com.

The World Travel Market, the world’s second largest annual travel and tourism exhibition opened in London on November 10.

For the first time, the Uganda stall received rev reviews and appears to have been a hit among visitors to the exhibition.

Uganda had a storied stand, which according to reports attributed to the Uganda Tourist Board (UTB) Marketing and Public Relations Officer, Mr Edwin Muzahura, attracted over 7,000 tourists in the three days of the exhibition.

For the first time, the Uganda Tourist Association (UTA), UTB, the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Tourist Board, the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO), with support from the Civil Aviation Authority, raised over US$10,000 for the WTM 2008 Organising Committee.

According to Geoffrey Baluku, a board member of the Uganda Tourist Association (UTA), a survey of the thousands of guests who visited its stand, Uganda is becoming a highly sought after destination in East Africa.

But Mr Baluku also noted that wholesalers who visited the Ugandan stand noted that over the past few years Uganda had become a ‘œstand alone’ destination.

In the past many international and regional tour operators offered Uganda as ‘œan add on’ extension to Kenya and Tanzania,’ he said, ‘œHowever, now there is such a great demand by consumers to spend their entire time in Uganda as it is emerging as a long haul destination especially for specialty tours.

That is the problem.

The single visa proposal was made by the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) about three years ago.

The EAC Secretariat has it on top of its future plans. It had initially been hoped that it would be operational by 2006 but competition between Tanzania and Kenya has been the major hindrance to implementing the single visa.

Now Uganda is adding to the competition by scoring major successes.

This year it is targeting tourist traffic of one million, or a 30 percent leap from the 2006 figure of 770,000. In 2007, 880,000 tourists visited.

Globally, 22 percent of tourists prefer to travel to Kenya, 18 percent to Tanzania and only 6% to Uganda. So it makes sense to market the EAC as a single destination.

Under the single visa proposal, a tourist would apply for a visa in any one of the five states and would travel freely to all the countries. The challenge is how member states would equitably share the benefits.

Tanzania, which has a strong tourist board and many attractions, prefers that each member country markets its tourist attractions independently but under a joint platform featuring EAC attractions and standardised facilities like hotels classifications, a common code of professional conduct for private and public tour and travel operators and agents.

The single visa negotiation fall under the common market protocol that is already under discussion and would see free movement of people, goods, and services in the EAC.

Although, the tourist boards of the member states are pushing, the regional body’s Council of Ministers is critical as it holds the authority to decide on sovereignty, revenue, policy and immigration matters, and ultimately, to adopt single visa policy.

Tourists often want to sample tourist attractions across the region but visas and permits have proved time consuming.

Tourist visas, depending on entries, go for between US$50- to 200 for Uganda; and between US$50 and US$ 100 for Tanzania and Kenya.

Already, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda tourism agencies market East Africa at international fairs as a single destination. The stands of EAC member states are usually together.

The challenge the announcement they made at the WTM throws at them is how to make their governments make the bold move. Failure to adopt a single visa system is now not an option because the international tourism community is watching in anticipation.

 

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