Tanzania has agreed to an amended EAC Protocol on Tourism and Wildlife Management, paving the way for another attempt at marketing the region as one tourist destination.

The decision to delete Article 4 (2)(e) from the protocol on the use of EAC Single Tourist Visa was arrived at by EAC Sectoral Council on Tourism and Wildlife Management that was held on July 15, in Arusha, Tanzania.

Proper docketing

Tanzania has in the past been opposed to the protocol on grounds that it proposes to promote the use of an EAC Single Tourist Visa (STV) as a means of collecting revenue in the tourism sector. The argument back then was that, the country stood to lose revenue in case tourists chose to visit Tanzania via another country as the entry point into the region, thus paying visa fees to that country.

Now, Tanzania wants the application of STV to be managed by Immigration departments as opposed to having it under the tourism docket.

The proposed amendment calls for use of a Single Tourist Visa for the six EAC partner states among other proposals, and which has been a subject of delays. It will now be forwarded to the Council of Ministers for adoption.

The Sectoral Council had met July 15 to discuss the EAC Regional Covid-19 Tourism Recovery Plan, chaired by Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, Najib Balala.

“In view of the above, the Sectoral Council decided to remove Article 4 (2) (e) and approved the draft protocol. It directed the Secretariat to submit the Protocol to the Council of Ministers for adoption,” said Mr Balala in a report following the extraordinary meeting.

“Partner states that are ready to introduce the single tourist visa can do so on the basis of the principle of variable geometry as others prepare to join the initiative.”

The meeting also directed the EAC Secretariat to convene a multi-sectoral meeting of Immigration, Security and Tourism and Wildlife on single tourist visa as proposed by Tanzania.

The country, which was represented at the meeting by Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Dr Damas Ndumbaro, submitted its concerns on the draft protocol vide their letter dated December 24, 2020.

In the submission, Tanzania recommended deletion of the article on the use of EAC single tourist visa, arguing that “the visa issue belongs to the immigration sector and not to the tourism sector as it’s a permit that allows a foreigner to enter a specific country. Therefore, it would be wise for the visa issue to be dealt with by the Immigration subsector EAC.”

Sectoral resilience

It added that “Tanzania has no visa specific for tourists. According to the analysis undertaken at EAC level also indicated that tourism specific Visas are non-existent in the other partner states.”

During the meeting, Kenya suggested that the Secretariat should focus on undertaking marketing of the region as a single tourism destination while maintaining individual Partner States to continue to focus on the marketing of their respective countries through their national tourism boards.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has taught all of us some important lessons. For instance, domestic and regional tourism markets are key and can help in making the tourism sector resilient in case of future disasters and pandemics,” said Mr Balala.

EAC Secretary General Dr Peter Mathuki said the tourism sector is an important area of co-operation for EAC owing to its contribution to the economies of Partner States in terms of GDP (about 10 percent), export earnings (17 percent) and jobs (about 7 percent).

The travel and tourism sector, globally, was affected by the pandemic more than any other economic sector. Mr Balala noted that, “Based on statistics reported by the Partner States, the region lost close to 70 percent of international tourist arrivals in 2020 coupled with massive losses in tourism earnings and tourism-related jobs.”

Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda market their tourism as a one tourist destination. Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan have been urged to join the one destination.