EAC single Visa to encourage more tourists
Tourism businesses will be pleased a boost in tourist numbers could be on the horizon, as the Coalition of the willing’ that involves Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda committed to making it easier for visitors to obtain a single visa that can be used to travel within the three countries. Despite the recent high exchange rates, the number of tourists arriving for short and long term visits to the three countries has continued to grow to record numbers in the past three years. Domestically, tourism slowed as more East Africans travelled within the East African Community member states than at their home country thanks to the high costs in their respective countries with Kenyans and Ugandans leading the pack according to the latest statistics. The strong numbers of visitors will provide much needed support for the 1,000,000 people directly and indirectly employed in the sector in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, as well as hospitality, retail, transport and accommodation businesses.
The ‘Coalition of the willing’ has promised to improve visa access for people as part of the infrastructure negotiations among the three countries. The three also plans to simplify the single visa process by having electronic lodgement of visas, encouraging repeat visits and a daily turnaround for visa application with an additional fee. Many tour operators and hotel owners have applauded any move designed to increase international and regional tourism. Any processes that would make it easier for foreign visitors to come to Rwanda, Uganda or Kenya will be a positive move. There are moves to get the processing done online and this is very important. In the 2014-15 financial year the three countries expects more than 1.5m short-term visitor arrivals, about 30 % of all tourists expected in the three countries according to industry statistics. Tourism in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda generates estimated $2.5 billion for the three economies annually.
It’s slightly over $100 million a month coming from tourism and it’s expected to grow to $5b in the next three years. Recently the three countries released the business count and employment figures and there are at least 3,000 direct tourism employees in 600,000 businesses around Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. Increasing tourism from Latin America, Asia and Middle East is the biggest opportunity for the three countries operators and businesses. What ‘coalition of the willing’ single Visa process needs to use their proximity to their advantage. With single Visa, barriers in front of visitors who want to come have been eliminated by streamlining of the visa processing by making it easier for people from other countries. Tourism industry in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda should also receive increased funding and expansion of the infrastructure and a focus of the three governments resources on opportunities.