East African countries like Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda have now a single tourist visa. This has proven to be a game changing tool in promoting tourism and trade among the 3 countries.
Burundi and Tanzania on the other hand, though members of the east African community are not yet part of the single tourist visa initiative.
Carmen NIBIGIRA, coordinator of the East African Tourism Platform-EATP, the organ in charge of promoting tourism within East Africa has addressed the issue in an interview with Akeza.net
Akeza.net: What do you think countries like Burundi and Tanzania who are not part of the single tourist visa are missing? On the other side, what is Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya gaining from it?
Carmen NIBIGIRA: The single touring visa was created in the mind that we want to make life easier for tourists. So definitely, the purpose of the single tourist visa is the tourist who is the consumer. The consumer comes to Kenya, comes to Tanzania, comes to Uganda, and comes to Burundi. So if all of us can sit down and look at who are we serving and then see the consumer as our prime target, we all agree the conversation is very clear. Let’s make it easier for that person to travel to Tanzania, to Kenya, to Uganda, to Rwanda and Burundi.
So now let’s move on. We all agree that we want to make his journey easier. You are based in Washington DC , the nearest embassy is the Ugandan embassy and you are from south Carolina for instance, why do you need to go to Los Angeles to get a visa to Tanzania, when you can just visit the nearest embassy and they issue a visa to travel the whole east Africa ? Now let’s come down. The person has now reached the destination, with one visa. Are you going to limit him to what he can see and where he can spend his money? Is that what we want? No!
Whether you come from the perspective of Burundi and Tanzania, let’s all focus our eyes on who is the tourist, who is the visitor. That’s where my argument is. We all agree that we need to bring people here. We all agree we want them to spend the money.
Every single dollar spent in this region, whether it’s in Kenya, whether it’s in Uganda, whether it’s in Rwanda or Burundi, will benefit our way or another the region. Let’s now move from just the bird eye big distance to a helicopter view.
Another step further, what does Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda benefit from this? A tourist that chooses to go to Uganda and Kenya, Rwanda will still benefit from it. That single tourist visa means shared cost, and shared benefit. Even if the person does not go to Kenya, but he goes to Rwanda and Uganda, Kenya still benefits from it. So, Tanzania and Burundi, we are losing out. I will say, let’s not focus on who is the winner here, who is the looser here. Because for me the winner is the tourist . Let’s serve the people we want to come to this region.
Akeza.net: For the time the three countries have been implementing the single tourist visa, do you think they have managed to raise their tourism revenue?
Carmen NIBIGIRA: We will look at this, not from the countries perspective. Let’s look now at the private sector level. A person who is a tour operator operating in Rwanda who can manage to sell a package which is multifunction, meaning crossborder between Rwanda and Uganda, the tour operator will benefit from Rwanda and the other side in Uganda.
A hotel in Rwanda will have 3-4 days occupancy, a hotel in Uganda wil have 3-4 days occupancy. The visa for us is a tool. It is the same way for us as you drive a vehicle. A vehicle will take you from A to B, a bus will take you from A to B. We want every tour operator, business minded people, to look at this as a tool.
We have created this tool for you. Now, all the obstacles are not going to be there anymore. We are talking about one single visa for visitors, use of national identity cards to cross borders. Now, students can cross a border just by using a student card. This is a huge milestone. So we are now opening our borders to people who were denied that right of crossing borders and visiting what we have. And since that has happened, it’s not just for tourism.
We have seen trade grow. The boarder between Uganda and Rwanda, the boarder between Uganda and Kenya, people are trading, people are going and check what is on the other side. In my language we say, a bird will never know what is on the other side unless you go and see it yourself. So we are now engaging in more business, trade, collaboration, cooperation, share of values and cultures for the region. This is the dream of east Africa: putting together five countries and work together.
Akeza.net: what is your message to Burundi and Tanzania as far as the single tourist visa is concerned?
We all agree we need tourists. We all spend money and our resources and our energy to attract tourists. Let’s look at that tourist and see him from the perspective of making sure he stays, visits in our region. We are living in a period when competition is stiff. The more you make my life complicated for visiting your region, the more I choose other alternative. So Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda have decided to put their efforts together to maximize the time, the revenue, everything that tourists come to do here. Let’s package everything so that everything single dollar that comes stays in our region. It’s not about staying in Uganda or Kenya; it is staying in East Africa.
So Tanzania and Burundi, the single tourism visa as I mentioned is a tool. Take it and make it work for you. You are not losing, you are actually gaining.
Interview by Landry MUGISHA