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Uganda’s Hanze Tours Managing Partner Sam Asasiira (L), Felix Ogorgkara of Extreme Adventure Park and Victory Global Impact Director Enock Makanga (R) having a talk during the 1st Edition of the East Africa Regional Hospitality Leadership Summit and Expo in Mombasa, Kenya on May 29, 2023. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NMG

Tourism stakeholders in Uganda and Kenya have urged other East African Community partners to resolve pending issues on the use of national identification cards as legal travel documents to boost regional tourism.

While marking milestones since 2014 when the EAC started recognising the use of national IDs as travel documents between Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, Enock Makanga, group managing director of consulting firm Victory Global Impact, said this has improved tourism and the regional economy would benefit if other EAC countries implemented the initiative. 

“We need to streamline easy movement of people to improve tourism within our region,” said Makanga at the first Regional Hospitality Leadership Summit for Eastern Africa held in Mombasa.

In 2014, Presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Paul Kagame (Rwanda) and Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya) – through the Northern Corridor Integration Projects – agreed to recognise the National Identity Card as a travel document within the EAC to boost integration, a policy that enables citizens of the three countries to visit for up to six months without requiring any other documentation.

“We have been introducing special packages for East African residents where they can have lucrative packages to tourists arriving at Kenya’s Coastal sites, to explore Uganda’s natural adventure, leisure, business and cultural attractions that Kampala has to offer,” said Felix Odongkara, Uganda Extreme Adventure Park sales manager. 

Last year, Uganda’s tourism players reached out to Kenya to help bridge market access challenges for Kampala’s hospitality offers.

In return, Kenyan tourists can visit Ugandan sites at discounted prices to supplement safaris. Kenya remains Uganda’s biggest source market for tourists in the region, accounting for 29 percent of total arrivals in 2018, according to figures by the Tourism Research Institute.

According to the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), the lucrative packages give tourists arriving at Kenya’s coastal sites an opportunity to explore Uganda’s natural adventure tourism and culture with unique safaris, mountain gorillas, rare tree climbing lions and over 1,063 bird species. It is also the source of the Nile, the world’s longest river.

In 2022, Kenya received 870,465 tourists, compared with 567,848 in 2020, with the USA topping as the major tourist source with 136,981 visitors, followed by Uganda (80,067), Tanzania (74,051), the United Kingdom 53,264 and India (42,159), according to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

The two countries are banking on regional citizen-eased travel requirements to improve the balance of trade by jointly promoting beaches and parks in the region where citizens of the two countries are only allowed to use their national identity cards to cross borders while international tourists will use East Africa single visa to tour the two countries.

Both countries belong to the one-tourism visa programme that also includes Rwanda. 

Under the programme, tourists arriving in one of country can use the same tourist visa to cross to the other. 

The problem has often been the transportation connectivity.

Read: How free movement of people across Africa can work

To boost international tourisms, key players in the sector asked regional governments to implement the Open Skies Policy to ensure Tourism hubs attract more International Airlines in order to boost the economy of the Country through the Tourism Sector.

Open skies policy in civil aviation aims to ease access to national airports for international airlines to increase the flow of tourists and develop their potential as regional hubs. This will see airlines from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and other EAC states operate across borders without restrictions.

Kenya Coast Tourist Association CEO Julius Owino said that they have initiated process to present a position paper to the parliament about the Open Skies Policy.

Mr Owino said that 70 percent of the hospitality business in the country has been benefiting from domestic tourism since post-Covid-19 lockdowns, and as travels restrictions further ease, East African states need to rethink and re-strategise on how to attract more international tourists.

“The main challenge that East Africa is facing as a destination is the connectivity issue because we are getting very few direct flights from international flights like Dubai to Mombasa and the others are charter flights that cannot be fully relied on,” Owino said.
Five years ago, Mombasa used to receive 30 or more charter flights in a month but now it receives fewer than five.

“If the government is not ready to fully implement the open skies policy, we are appealing to it to allow direct flights by airlines such as Turkish and Qatar to bring in more tourists,” said Mr Owino. By ANTHONY KITIMO, NMG

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