Three years ago the East African Tourism Platform (EATP) was launched across the East African Community, amid some serious fanfare for that matter, and it was the first time that a regional tourism apex body was put into place, able to lobby at the East African Community (EAC) level and also at the level of national governments. It was also the first time many heard and then met Waturi Wa Matu, who was to become the Coordinator at the EATP office which was based in Nairobi and attached to the Kenya Tourism Federation offices.
Waturi did not remain a stranger and soon her name was known in all tourism forums across the region, with the words “here, there, and everywhere” coming to mind as she jetted from event to event, from city to city, and from country to country to stand by the national tourism associations and support them in their quest to be heard, listened to, taken more seriously, and most important, promoting the common policies agreed on at the EATP level.
Be it a tourism conference, a key international tourism trade fair, or a local festival, one could be sure to meet Waturi there, talking tourism, breathing tourism, and breathing fire where necessary to get the message across just how important the sector is for the region.
Waturi became a centerpiece, a kingpin, in the quest to lift tourism’s importance in government circles across the region, and she used the three years on the job very well, as many can attest to, this correspondent included who values her as a friend and a trusted source for breaking news, being able to often report as things shaped up in the conference rooms.
Sadly, today was Waturi’s last day as Coordinator of the East African Tourism Platform, and she will go out with a bang as the last regional meeting of the national members of the EATP is taking place shortly in Nairobi, Kenya. Waturi will be able to stand up and take a bow, no doubt to the applause of those in the room, for the sterling job she has done. Whoever follows in her footsteps will have a mighty pair of shoes to fill.
When asked by this correspondent what her three most challenging topics were, she was quick to respond, never mincing words and always to the point – a rare quality these days when many association leaders have turned into politicians and are unable to call a spade a spade any longer, perhaps for fear over their future careers:
1. Infrequent EAC Tourism and Wildlife Management Sectoral meetings – This is the key tool to address tourism and wildlife management issues at the EAC. Only two were held in my tenure, as a result slow progress at that level.
2. National Interest vs. Regional Interest.
3. Different levels of tourism development in different partner states. This can, however, be a catalyst to enhanced progress.
On her successes, she was equally candid and again provided a parting shot in the form of a challenge to her colleagues and collaborators when she said:
“I leave proud of having played a small part in the successful lobbying for the EAC single tourism visa, use of IDs as travel documents for citizens, foreign residents visa-free travel, free movement of tourism services, joint marketing initiatives, and partial liberalization/opening up of EAC air space under the Northern Corridor Integration Projects (Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda) – Tourism Cluster. I wish to thank the heads of state for putting tourism on top of their agenda and the ministries in charge of tourism, immigration, and transport for their continuous efforts to create an enabling environment for tourism growth. I also I wish to thank the tourism boards for sharing the vision of EATP and for embracing intra- and inter-regional tourism promotion in their strategies. At but not least, I wish to thank the board of EATP for providing leadership and giving me a free hand to build EATP to what it is today. We still have a long way to go, and the journey will never be complete until all these benefits extend to the full EAC.
“A lot more initiatives are in the works such as the rolling out of national tourism inter-ministerial stakeholder’s forums, technical support for national tourism associations, and enhanced joint marketing activities all aimed at enhancing tourism competiveness in the region. The 2nd edition of the East Africa Tourism Guide will be published early next year after having distributed 6,000 copies of the 1st edition. I do hope that this guide will continue to grow the sector’s business-to-business networks within and outside of East Africa.
“EATP will continue to lobby for free movement of persons, services, and other tourism-related issues within the EAC and as envisioned by our leaders and as provided by the EAC Common Market Protocol. I do hope that tourism and wildlife management sectoral council meetings will be held more frequent and that the agenda will be reviewed to reflect current needs and quick wins to fast-track integration.”