East Africa: Private players under the East African Tourism Platform are throwing their weight behind a regional initiative to market East African countries as a single tourist destination.

At a two-day consultative meeting in Kigali, yesterday, the players said their biggest challenge was financing and harmonisation of their products.

The meeting, held in Nyarutarama, a Kigali suburb, attracted participants from East African Community partner states Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and hosts Rwanda.

They also noted the role of their respective governments in the promotion of tourism and the efforts that have seen tourism continue to be among the biggest employers as well as income earner.

"Our biggest problem is the budget. This venture is extensive and expensive. We also need to streamline our products so that they don't come off as duplicates. Our governments are well ahead of us. They have put in place policies through East African Community agreements, and Northern Corridor, and now the onus is on us, the private sector, to capitalise on these efforts," said Manzi Kayihura, the chairperson of East African Tourism Platform.

They cited skills gap, Value Added Tax (VAT), poaching and political instability among the other challenges facing the tourism sector.

Denis Nshimiyimana, the chairperson of Burundi Chamber of hotels and tourism, painted a grim picture of the tourism sector in his country.

"The Burundi Chamber of Hotels and Tourism started in 2009 and has over 140 members, but due to the political instability in our country, tourism activities have dropped considerably, hotel occupancy is now below 10 per cent, and our arrivals last year were 140 tourists only," he said.

He also lamented that they don't have any institutions teaching tourism related studies.

Burundi is experiencing a political crisis that has driven thousands of citizens from their homes and continues to cost lives.

They had Akilah Institute but it has since shut down. He further decried the fact that most tourism players have left the country and nowadays hotels go for almost a month without a single tourists.

However, he said, Burundi has potential to be a big tourism hub.

Richard O. Rugimbana, executive secretary of Tourism Federation of Tanzania, said they are highly affected by poaching.

He also said they face a big skills gap and limited resources.

The effect of skills gap was also echoed by the head of Uganda Tourism Association, Boniface Byamukama.


"The biggest challenges we face are visa fees and value added tax which stands at 18 per cent. This has forced many hotels and lodges upcountry to close. The issue of poaching is also affecting us and the skills gap is still an area that we need to work on," he said.


Suzan M. Ongalo, the Acting Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Tourism association, called for collective efforts across the region to achieve the dream of a one tourist destination.

She called on participants to come up with a unique product that is worth selling and can be identified as an East African product.

"We have to continue working with the governments because it yields fruit. Secondly, we have to continue working together because it's through partnerships that we shall grow. Lastly, with the single tourist visa, what are we selling? We need to come up with a single product that we can all be able to sell as a single tourist destination," she said.

Belize Kariza, the Chief Tourism Officer at Rwanda Development Board, urged countries not to look at each other as competitors but rather to complement each other with diversified experiences and products across the region.

She also said it is important to work together for common interests.

"It is imperative to take the advantage of East Africa Tourist Visa (EATV) and market it collectively among our potential guests. We need to approach the rest of the world as a unified and rich tourist destination. We are better, stronger and more attractive together than individually. We, as Government, are always ready and willing to provide our support in addressing all issues that are impeding tourism development in East Africa," she said.

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Source: The New Times