As the world was celebrating the World Tourism Day on Sunday, September 27th, 2015, Carmen NIBIGIRA, regional coordinator of the East African Tourism Platform-EATP has released a speech on the strengths and opportunities of tourism in the EAC. Bellow is the speech. Read,comment and share.
Without any doubt tourism is the socio-economic sector capable of unlocking opportunities through its value chain around the world and in particular, in this East Africa that I am proud to call my home. I had the opportunity to travel, work, and experience the five countries of East Africa in my various trips. I am privileged and humbled to have sampled some of the best tourism experiences and services EAC can offer.
I grew up on the shores of the Lake Tanganyika in Bujumbura, Burundi and I have always been fond of the magical of tourism around lakes, rivers and streams. Wherever I have been in East Africa, I was always looking for that experience, whether it is from the Lake Muhazi in Rwanda, Lake Victoria around Kampala and Kisumu and I can’t wait to go north of Kenya and see first-hand the tranquil magic of the Lake Turkana and return to coastal beaches of the East African coast on the shores of the Indian.
Surely, there is still so much more to see, do and experience in this vast region that we all call home. Simply put, East Africa is a magical destination that shines like a pearl, towers over a thousand hills, and is the soul and beating heart of Africa. With such and encompassing destination, can you really blame me for growing my bucket list?
It is this our region that gave the world a taste of what a safari ought to look like, feel like and be like. Across our region, we boast of some of the most diverse and unique game parks, reserves and ecosystems.
With all these sights and sounds of the region added together, East Africa could never be complete without its people. We boast of a wide range cultural traditions and a heritage and warmth that forever draws in people from across all corners of the world.
In a nutshell, this our East Africa is the centrepiece of what a region can and should offer the global traveller. The diversity of what can be seen and experienced in this region endears us to many a traveller. From unique aroma and tastes of our diverse gastronomy, to the unique cultural dances of our people that are so diverse yet one. From the wild jungles of the vast Maasai Mara to the rooftops of the Mount Kilimanjaro; from the great ocean to the east to the great lakes in the west and everything in between, we have every reason to be proud of what we have, but most of all, we have every reason to showcase all these to peoples from other regions of the world while we also tour and appreciate what we have.
Our towns and cities are today thriving centers of trade, commerce and industry. But more so, they continue to host thousands of business delegations coming to attend local, regional and international delegates attending major conferences and events. Again, like it happened during the 17th and 18th centuries, East Africa is attracting people from all across the world.
This year’s message of one billion tourists and one billion opportunities resonates directly with me and I hope it calls us tourism lovers, stakeholders, policy makers and each of us as EAC citizens to be called to take action. An action to venture out and experience what our region has to offer. I have pledged to be an ambassador of East Africa wherever I will go, with an assertive assurance that we have what it takes to be a destination of choice and excellence.
This week as we were reflecting on this year’s theme, I asked myself what are we doing to be part of these statistics and what impacts can we make into our region and communities. Those of us developing, marketing, branding and crafting tourism products and services we should ask ourselves whether we are changing to adapt to the changes happening at the local, national and regional level. We should change the direction of our lenses inwards, view and count our East African citizens and residents as part of the value chain of tourism from the perspectives of consumers and producers of tourism. We are the catalysts of the tourism sector, we are unavoidable partners, stakeholders and investors. The narrative needs to change to reflect us, sound familiar to us, resonates with us and most important get us involved and engaged.
When we can now travel with our national IDs and students cards to cross borders, facilitating travellers with one single tourist visa in three countries, when we see a regional movement happening we can’t help ourselves asking how we can create value for all partners in tourism. Our roads infrastructure is expanding and improving and thereby enhancing regional connectivity which in turn translates to more intra-regional trade, tourism and harmony.
And while that happens, we need to go further by implementing an open skies policy for the region as this will make air travel within our region more affordable, cut down on travel time and most importantly open up the entire region even further.
East African citizens and residents, whether you travel in East Africa for business, leisure, tourism or visiting friends and family, see yourself as part of this vision of this year’s tourism day. Every franc, shilling, dollar and euro you will spend in East Africa will count towards socio-economic development of our home: East Africa. You are part of the one billion tourists we are targeting, we are counting on YOU and we are inviting you to be part of this leading tourism industry in East Africa. Opportunities will be created if we can all together break the barriers, bring down walls and challenge the status quo in tourism, as citizens of East Africa, as consumers and as partners we can change the landscape of tourism forever and for the better.
Let us be part of this movement, we are all invited!