The EAC region lost more than 90 percent in tourism earnings to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Dr Mathuki is confident that the region's tourism activities are now poised for revival, putting the onus on governments and other players in the sector to work together to market the region’s tourist attractions and products
The first East African Community Tourism Expo that ends in Arusha, Tanzania Monday, has given the EAC renewed hope of the countries moving together, at least in one of the most important sectors, Tourism.
The three-day even was organised under the theme: Promotion of Resilient Tourism for Inclusive Socio-economic Development.
Tanzania was appropriately chosen by the EAC Sectoral Council on Tourism and Wildlife Management to host the inaugural edition of the expo majorly because Arusha, the EAC Capital is also Tanzania's tourism hub, but also Tanzania has previous stayed away from all regional tourism and many other initiatives.
Tanzania hardly ever participated in the international expos organised by individual EAC partner states, like Uganda's Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo.
The country also declined to join the EAC Single Tourism Visa which was on of the efforts aimed at marketing the region as one tourist destination.
The initiative finally implemented by Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, would enable tourists has a single itinerary which would take them across the region without having to ask for multiple visas when crossing borders.
Tanzania, at that time, said such an initiative exposed countries to risks like Cross-border crime and terrorism.
However, since Samia Suluhu Hassan assumed Tanzania's presidency in April, she has exhibited herself as a pro-EAC integration leader, and showing interest in being at the forefront of the process.
She is also undertaking the process of waiving work permit requirements for EAC citizens intending to work in the country.
According to data compiled by the EAC Secretariat, the countries jointly lost 70 percent of their annual tourist arrivals in 2020, while revenue losses amounted to 92 percent due to the covid-19 pandemic, according to Peter Mathuki, the EAC Secretary General.
“Consequently, this led to massive staff layoffs, with much business reducing staff to up to 50% of their usual establishment and some maintaining them on 50%pay," he says.
The theme of the EXPO; “Promotion of Resilient Tourism for Inclusive Socio-economic Development”, was informed by the need to develop the tourism sector in a sustainable manner following the devastating impact on the sector by the pandemic.
It also affected jobs and conservation activities.
Similarly, wildlife conservation in the region suffered a major blow from the pandemic through loss of conservation revenue most of which is generated through tourists visiting the protected areas and wildlife conservancies across the region.
Tourism is one of the most important sectors to the economies of the region, contributing about 10 percent of the GDP and 17 percent of the export earnings.
It also creates 7 percent of the jobs, on top of having a multiplier effect on other sectors like transport, entertainment, agriculture and manufacturing.
The partner states of the EAC are under obligation to undertake such joint tourism activities, to collaborate in promotion and marketing of the sector, according to Article 115 of the EAC Treaty.
Apart from promoting the EAC as a single tourism destination, the expo also provides a platform for tourism service providers’ business to business (B2B) engagements, creates awareness on tourism investment opportunities and address the challenges affecting tourism and wildlife sectors in the region.
At least 150 exhibitors have participated in the expo that also attracted 100 hosted buyers or targeted international tourism agencies.
“The EXPO is will bolster intra-regional tourism in addition to international tourism through promotion of the tourism product offerings for the EAC Citizens," says the Deputy Secretary General for production Christophe Bazivamo. "This will build up on previous efforts such as the decision by the Council of Ministers that Partner States offer preferential rates for EAC citizens visiting public tourist attractions within the region whereby they are charged rates that apply to the nationals.”
Secretary General Peter Mathuki said that tourist arrivals to the region fell from almost 7 million arrivals before the pandemic to 2.25 million arrivals, making the tourism sector the worst hit by the pandemic.
“The Republics of Uganda and Rwanda experienced the largest dips in visitors to parks at 68.7% and 67.5% respectively. On the other hand, United Republic of Tanzania and Kenya recorded 61.8% and 60.3% respectively,” he said.
Dr Mathuki is confident that the region's tourism activities are now poised for revival, putting the onus on governments and other players in the sector to work together to market the region’s tourist attractions and products.
“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.
He said that like other sectors, the region's tourism sector had drawn a number of important lessons from the pandemic.
“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.