East African Community Partner States lost 92% of revenues in the tourism sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Making the disclosure, EAC Secretary General Dr. Peter Mathuki said that tourist arrivals to the region fell from 6.98 million arrivals before the pandemic to 2.25 million arrivals occasioning the losses, adding that the tourism sector was the worst hit by the pandemic.
Noting that the region was now open again for business, Dr. Mathuki urged EAC Partner States governments and other stakeholders to work together to market the region’s tourist attractions and products as part of efforts to ensure a speedy recovery for the sector.
“Despite the fact that the pandemic has reversed the gains that we had made in the tourism sector, we are quite confident that through collective and collaborative efforts, we should be able to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels of performance and even do better within a span of less than five years,” said Dr. Mathuki.
“As a region, we have what it takes including iconic and fascinating tourist attractions ranging from pristine white beaches to beautiful snowcapped mountains, rolling savannahs to dense rainforests, rich cultural heritage that span the entire region and unmatched diversity in wildlife species.”
Dr. Mathuki said that the region had drawn a number of important lessons from the pandemic especially in relation to the economic sectors that were hard hit such as tourism.
“One lesson that stands out and resonates with most destinations around the world is the need to entrench resilience in the tourism sector,” he said, adding that the Community would take a number of steps to enhance recovery in the sector.
“This EXPO is among the first initiatives that we have embarked on as part of rolling out implementation of the Regional Tourism Recovery Plan that was approved by the EAC Ministers for Tourism and Wildlife Management on 15th July 2021,” said the Secretary General.
Dr. Mathuki said that the EAC was also planning to undertake a major Regional and Domestic Tourism Campaign in the region.
“This is based on the premise that our intra-regional tourism market is ripe and provides the best backstopping in case of future shocks. As you are all aware, the middle class in Africa has been growing rapidly and it largely comprises of young people who are eager to travel and explore. East Africa should be their first destination. They should take advantage of the preferential rates applicable to EAC citizens,” he said.
Dr. Mathuki disclosed that the EAC Council of Ministers had previously made a decision that the EAC citizens should be charged local rates while entering public tourist sites such as national parks and reserves that are distributed across the region, adding that the decision has been implemented by all Partner States and has been extended to hotels and other tourist accommodation establishments.
The Secretary General urged EAC Partner States to diversify their tourism products by developing other products such as conference tourism, cultural tourism, sports tourism, and hailed the United Republic of Tanzania for launching a Golf Tourism campaign.
“We are also emphasizing development and promotion of multi-destination tourism packages that would encourage visitors to travel to more than one EAC Partner State in a single trip. This will go a long way in supporting the initiative of Branding EAC as a Single Tourism Destination that is also in the pipeline,” he said.
Dr. Mathuki said that the region had commenced capacity building activities targeting the various tourism service providers including hotels, tour operators, travel agencies, tour guides and even local communities.
“The capacity building will focus on critical aspects at this time such as implementing harmonised COVID-19 related tourism guidelines. Soon after the onset of COVID-19, we undertook training of frontline staff on COVID-19 safety measures at all international airports in the EAC Partner States,” he said.
Dr. Mathuki said that the Sectoral Council on Tourism and Wildlife Management also approved Regional Guidelines for Resumption of Services in the Tourism and Hospitality Sector aimed at ensuring that visitors are safe as they travel within the region.
The Secretary General was addressing guests, visitors and exhibitors when he presided over the official opening of the 1st EAC Regional Tourism EXPO at the TGT grounds in Arusha, Tanzania. The Expo will run from 9th to 11th October, 2021.
He disclosed that the EAC had developed an EACPass that facilitates the travel industry to get back to normal while keeping people safe in the wake of pandemic.
“The EACPass integrates all EAC Partner States COVID-19 test results and Certificates to ensure safe and seamless travel across the region. Work is ongoing to integrate the EACPass with other international surveillance systems such as the EUPASS. We will be demonstrating how the EACPass works at this EXPO. The EACPass is a step further to the Mobile Laboratories that the EAC has installed at One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs) such as Namanga to facilitate testing and rapid response in line with free movement of goods and services within the region,” said Dr. Mathuki.
“Another important aspect that we will work on immediately as a region is enhancing our capacity for digital tourism marketing. In this area, the world has moved fast and the travel and tourism industry is one of the fields that should be at forefront. It is our aim to have all tourism operators including SMEs in the digital space to ensure that they are able to commercialize their services,” said the SG.
He said that in digital tourism marketing, the EAC would work closely with the regional private sector tourism bodies such as the East African Tourism Platform to ensure this objective is realized,” he said, adding that Partner States Tourism Boards would launch together the development of the “EAC Regional Tourism Marketing & Business Deal Room” during the investment forum during the EXPO.
The Secretary General said that in promoting the EAC as a single tourism destination, the need to maintain the integrity of the region in terms of environmental sustainability should not be overlooked.
“EAC has robust policy instruments that guide us in collaboration in environmental management. When it comes to the wildlife conservation, we have been implementing the Regional Strategy to Combat Poaching and Illegal Wildlife Trade,” he said.
In his remarks, Tanzania’s Minister for the Natural Resources and Tourism, Hon. Damas Ndumbaru, disclosed that the expo had attracted 400 exhibitors with 15 African countries sending high level representatives.
Hon. Ndumbaru further revealed that Tanzania would be hosting the UN World Tourism organised meeting of African Ministers of Tourism in Arusha in January 2021.
Speaking at the event, South Sudan’s Minister for Wildlife Conservation and Tourism, Lt. Gen. Rizik Zacharia Hassan, said the world’s youngest country was open for business with tourist attractions ranging from cultural tourism to unique geographical features.
On his part, Kenya’s Chief Administrative Secretary, Mr. Joseph Boinnet, observed that the region’s wildlife resources were facing increasing demands for farmland by communities neighbouring wildlife sanctuaries.
The Chief Administrative Secretary said EAC should therefore invest in areas that will ensure wildlife resources are managed sustainably vis-à-vis competing factors such as climate change and competing land use patterns.
Mr. Boinnet underscored the importance of resilience in the tourism sector for purposes of keeping the sector buoyant enough to withstand all manner of shocks and challenges in a post-COVID-19 era.