Advanced plans by the member states of East African Community to issue a single Visa to all foreigners touring the region could boost the region’s tourism sector that has remained largely under developed. The countries in the region have grown steadily in recent years and have a combined GDP of $80 billion. According to the data for 2012, international tourist arrivals have increased by an average of 15% a year and last year earned the region almost $3.5 billion in foreign exchange. The key driver of the region’s tourism sector is regional travel, which last year generated $5 billion for the five countries economies. The sector’s growth has been led by the private sector investments as regional airlines like Precision Air, Air Uganda, Rwandair and the popular Fly 540 that have all opened new routes and now hoteliers are following the same path. As with many other sectors in East Africa, tourism has hampered by poor infrastructure and connectivity challenges. Plans are afoot to expand International airports of Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, Entebbe International in Uganda and Julius Nyerere International airport in Tanzania while Rwanda has embarked on constructing a separate International airport very soon, which means more tourists trooping to the East Africa.
According to latest data, tourism is now a regional priority within the East African countries and national governments of member states. Tourism directly contribute 5 -15% to gross domestic product of the EAC countries and indirectly contribute 12-24%. The sector is a major job creator that account for 12% of permanent jobs in the region meaning it’s the second highest employer after the government in the region. Interestingly, entry in the tourism sector requires little training and research conducted in Tanzania showed anyone can start working almost immediately, compared to well trained entrants in the mining, manufacturing and finance among others where entry levels are much tougher. That led to Tanzania’s ministry of tourism announcing radical changes in tourism operation where 80% plus of the existing tour guides could lose their licenses due to low skills. East African countries plan to build infrastructure to support tourism and promote the five countries as a single tourist destination is welcome move and will no doubt unleash the region’s tourism potential.