Efforts to launch a joint marketing strategy aimed at promoting the East African Community (EAC) as a single travel package for tourists appear to have hit a snag as the region’s council of ministers dither over a common tourist visa. According to the plan, a tourist would apply for a visa in any of the five states – Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania – and this visa would be applicable for travel to all the countries in the region. Tourist boards from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are the joint inventors of the plan, a cross-cutting measure which aims to standardise all tourism facilities in the region, including the visas, the hotels and other tourism facilities in region.
« We’re aware that people are not happy with paying for more than one visa when visiting the region, » said Shedrack Mashauri, principal tourism officer for the East African Community. « We want to make it easier for them to see the whole region. » The East African common visa would be an initiative geared at marketing East Africa as a single tourism destination because most tour operators have been marketing and planning their visitors’ itineraries under a regional package.
The joint marketing drive has been continuing informally since the launching by the region’s state-run tourism agencies of a common marketing strategy designed to showcase the East African region as a single destination with unique attractions.
However, the region’s tourism planners have been betting on the ultimate prize of the joint marketing gimmick, which is the introduction of the tourist visas, allowing tourists to travel through a series of endless borders to sample unique attractions.
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. However, 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 yet to agree on the joint visa for tourists.
EA region is one of the leading tourism hotspots in Africa alongside with North Africa and southern Africa and receives close to four million tourists from abroad a year. Major source markets for tourists coming to EA include United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Australia, Japan, Italy, Netherlands, South Africa and Scandinavian countries.