In line with its mission and vision, the EATP, the East Africa Tourism Platform, hosted a forum for open discussions on the vision of East Africa as one tourism destination, and the feasibility and viability of this objective. The meeting took place at Elevate Suites in Kigali last week.
Invited to the meeting were CEOs and executive directors of private sector tourism associations in the five East African countries, namely from Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Tourism boards in the East African Community member states were also invited to the meeting as EATP fosters private/public-sector collaboration in matters of tourism in the entire region.
These stakeholders were invited in their respective capacities as policymakers and influencers to discuss challenges and opportunities of developing tourism in EAC and promoting it as a single destination.
For two days, EATP challenged the participants to look beyond their differences and challenges at their national levels and rally their strengths behind finding solutions to common problems.
Ms. Carmen Nibigira, the EATP Regional Coordinator, emphasized that solutions will have to come from all of the 5 partner states, with a unified vision and collaboration towards developing regional tourism. Ms. Nibigira hoped the forum gave each tourism stakeholder an opportunity to borrow a leaf from each other in their efforts to develop tourism in East Africa.
The priorities which emerged from the 2-day forum that are common to the 5 countries were described as policy regulations, product development and marketing, skills development, and research.
EATP called on all participants to see inter- and intra-regional tourism as something to be embraced for the good of the EAC. EATP believes that some of the challenges faced by the tourism sector in the region, such as a lack of open skies policies, competitiveness, product development, diversity, and infrastructures, can be better lobbied for together, and each participant was named to be the agent of change.
“EATP is represented by each single stakeholder who is in the room; each one of you is an investor in EAC, hence I urge you to collaborate, build bridges, and strengthen the vision of EATP of a vibrant and diverse single tourism destination providing exceptional experiences and products,” said Rwanda’s Mr. Manzi Kayihura, current Chairman of the EATP, while addressing the participants.
The fact that tourism boards of Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya were represented in the room, showed that the challenges facing the private sector can’t be solved individually but best with the involvement of the public sector.
Mr. Stephen Asiimwe, Head of the Uganda Tourism Board; Mrs. Belise Kariza, Chief Tourism Officer of Rwanda; and Mr. Jonathan Mbiyu, Regional Marketing Director at the Kenya Tourism Board, urged all tourism stakeholders to consolidate their efforts in forging synergies in driving regional tourism through guided policies and strategies. The key message was to shift the focus to domestic and regional tourism in driving their marketing and products development plans.
Tanzania and Burundi, even though they haven’t as yet joined the common tourist visa, were invited to all meetings organized, whether through the Northern Corridor Integration Project countries as observers or as full members at East Africa Business Council and East Africa Community meetings.
It was noted that the private sector is half of the solution in the equation; the other half are government-led initiatives. Creating an enabling environment for tourism business is the mandate and duty of the government through its agencies such as the tourism boards. Hence, this forum provided a much-needed platform to understand each other’s positions and give the private sector a chance to voice their concerns. EATP, supported by its partners in the private and public sector, will, therefore, seek strategic engagement with direct and concrete actions from both parties in driving the agenda towards inter- and intra-regional tourism.