By Ronald Musoke
Stakeholders positive that the new visa would boost tourist numbers to Uganda
Come January 1, 2014, the East African Common Tourist Visa will come into effect in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda and with it Uganda expects a surge in tourist numbers.
The three East African Community (EAC) States announced a ‘single destination’ tourist visa during the London World Travel Market conference on Nov.5.
The East African Tourism visa, which was first proposed about a decade ago, will require tourists to pay $100 instead of $150 for three separate visas, meaning the bearer will have saved $50.
Under the new system, the tour and travel company agents and other players in the tourism industry will also be able to offer multi-destination packages since tourists will now be free to move between the three countries.
Speaking after announcing the launch of the joint visa, Phylis Kandie, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism; Agnes Akiror Egunyu, Uganda’s Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities state minister and William Nkurunziza, Rwanda’s High Commissioner to the UK, said the deal was a major boost to tourism in the region since it was an opportunity for the three nations to increase tourist numbers.
Akankwasah Barirega, the Wildlife principal officer and deputy spokesperson at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities is positive about the development and expects more visitors to Uganda following this new deal.
“We shall now not burden our visitors with getting visas each time they cross the other country’s borders,” he told The Independent, “We applaud the move because it will improve convenience to our visitors, and we will optimize each member’s marketing and promotional efforts within the bloc.”
He says the new visa has been modeled on the European Union’s Schengen Visa, which allows visitors to any of the 26 EU members to travel freely beyond their original destination. The Schengen Visa has been successful especially in terms of leveraging the comparative advantages of member states.
Barirega says that within the EAC region, Kenya and Tanzania attract more visitors believed to be in their millions than their neighbours yet research shows that these visitors would have loved to continue to the other countries but they have always been bogged down by the bureaucracies surrounding the visa application process.
Cuthbert Baguma, the Uganda Tourism Board executive director, agrees that multiple visas have not been good for the region but this new visa will boost tourism numbers for Uganda.
“A single visa would make travel to the three countries affordable and accessible for the tourists,” he said.
Muriithi Ndegwa, the managing director of the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), said the single visa is long overdue as it will not only ease movements within the member states but will also allow the tourists to maximize value for money.
Going forward, there are also plans to create a single destination format for the International Tourism Board in 2014 and all major tourism trade fairs afterwards, to move into one common exhibition space with sections for Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. A new single destination with many attractions logo is also under consideration by the three partners.
The officials are desperate to have Tanzania on board as well despite assertions from the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, that the country was not ready to join the East African common visa because the proposed network of sharing data on tourists and fee collection infrastructure as well as security issues were not yet decided.
But despite Tanzania’s doubts, the coordinator of the East African Tourism Platform, Waturi Matu, told the press in London that Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have realized that the benefits of the common visa far outweigh the disadvantages.
UTB’s Baguma said there is need for Tanzania to tone down on their level of caution in view of the wider goals.
Barirega added: “Although I respect Tanzania’s security and identification concerns, for us in the tourism sector, we welcome the visa.”
“If there are issues of security, those should be handled by the security departments in the region since they (security agencies) are involved in this,” he said.
“We applaud the move because it will improve convenience to our visitors, and we will optimize each member’s marketing efforts within the bloc.”
Experts on the EAC integration insist the three ‘coalition’ partners have done nothing wrong since the three are categorically not isolating the other members and have left the door open for those who feel they need more time to come on board later.