Diversification of tourism products beyond traditional tourism attractions and joint promotion of the region, is a catalyst to revamping the EAC region as a single tourism destination.
This was underscored by regional Ministers responsible for EAC Affairs and Tourism and Wildlife Management who converged for the opening of the 3rd EAC Regional Tourism Expo (EARTE’23) and the Magical Kenya Travel Expo in Nairobi, Kenya.
The three-day Expo provided an opportunity for EAC Partner States to create awareness of tourism investment opportunities and address the challenges affecting the tourism and wildlife sectors in the region.
The new EAC tourism brand, “Visit East Africa – Feel the Vibe,” was also launched at the opening of the expo and aims at promoting the region as a single investment hub.
Speaking at the event, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary in charge of Tourism and Wildlife, Dr. Alfred Mutua, said that the Expo brought together over 100 hosted buyers and 300 exhibitors providing an opportunity for the region to jointly showcase its unique resources.
“This year’s theme, ‘Tourism for Green Growth,’ underscores our commitment to sustainable tourism. Kenya is set to introduce initiatives such as electric cars in parks and eco-rating schemes in our quest to propel tourism and our green growth agenda,” he said.
Adding, “As part of our five-year plan, we target 5.5 million international tourist arrivals and a $6.3 billion annual contribution by 2028.”
Speaking at the event, Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, the 1st Deputy Prime Minister of Uganda and Minister for EAC Affairs, stated that it was critical for the region to make use of its natural resources such as the Lake Victoria.
“Fast-tracking of the EAC Single Tourism Visa is critical to sell the region as a single tourism investment hub. I also urge the Partner States to fast-track the development of the EAC Tourism and Wildlife Protocol,” she said.
Meanwhile, the EAC Deputy Secretary General in charge of Customs, Trade and Monetary Affairs, Ms. Annette Ssemuwemba, said that regional tourism has been on an upward trajectory after recovering from the effects of the pandemic.
Ms. Ssemuwemba who represented the EAC Secretary General, Hon (Dr.) Peter Mathuki, said that the annual tourist arrivals are anticipated to increase to about 14.05 million by 2025 from the 7.2 million recorded in 2019.
“As we diversify our tourism markets, increasing the range of our tourism product offerings is inevitable. Whereas we are quite competitive in terms of beach and wildlife safari tourism, we are urging all EAC Partner States to diversify their tourism products,” said the Deputy Secretary General.
Ms. Ssemuwemba said that the EAC is collaborating with Partner States to develop other products such as cultural tourism, sport tourism, agro-tourism, and golf tourism among others.
“We are developing multi-destination thematic tourism packages that will encourage visitors to travel to more than one EAC Partner State in a single trip,” she added.
On his part, Martin Mugarra, the state Minister for Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities, Uganda, said Expo provided an opportunity for side engagements with other delegations where “We agreed to collaborate on a number of areas to better our Tourism sectors.”
He added that Uganda had an opportunity to showcase its tourism offerings at the Regional Tourism Expo.
He added that the Annual Tourism Expo is among the key initiatives that EAC has embarked on as part of implementing the Regional Tourism Marketing Strategy 2021-2025. Uganda was also chosen as the host for the coming Expo.
The 1st Expo was successfully hosted by the United Republic of Tanzania in Arusha in October 2021 while the 2nd Regional EXPO was hosted by the Republic of Burundi in Bujumbura in September 2022.
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for EAC, Arid and Semi-Arid Lands and Regional Development, Hon. Peninah Malonza, hailed EAC Partner States for their participation in the forum.
“Through cooperation, we have developed uniform criteria for the classification of hotels, restaurants and other tourist facilities within the region, in order to ensure increased quality standardization,” she said.
On his part, the GIZ SEAMPEC Cluster Manager, Mr. Bjoern Richter, said that a joint catalogue on the offerings of the regional tourism sector was recently developed and adopted by the EAC Partner States.
Also present at the event were the South Sudan Minister of Wildlife Conservation, Hon. Rizik Zakaria Hassan, and the High Commissioner for Rwanda to Kenya, H.E Martin Ngoga, among others.