East Africa Tourism Platform welcomes regional tourism recovery plan

The East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP), a private sector body for tourism promoting the interest and participation of the private sector in the East African Community (EAC) integration process, welcomes the recent approval of a regional COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Plan that seeks to revive the industry that has been badly hit by the pandemic.

On July 15, the EAC Sectoral Council on Tourism and Wildlife held a virtual meeting chaired by Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, Hon. Najib Balala, approved the EAC Regional COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Plan that seeks to revive the sector which the COVID-19 pandemic has badly hit for the past 16 months.

The Ministers, among other things, agreed that there was a need for a collective and coordinated approach towards tourism recovery that entails interventions that are aimed at reinforcing the measures being developed and implemented at national levels.

Besides the EAC Tourism COVID-19 Recovery Plan, the Ministers also approved the EAC Tourism Marketing Strategy 2021-2025; a Protocol on Tourism and Wildlife Management; regional guidelines for resumption of tourism; and the first EAC Regional Tourism Expo (EARTE).

Yves Ngenzi, the Coordinator of the Kigali-based EATP, said: “We welcome the adoption of the EAC Tourism Recovery Plan, and we are looking at it as a tool that will facilitate tourism recovery in the region.”

“We also commend the step towards harmonisation of regional tourism protocols and standard operating procedures through the EAC guidelines for resumption of tourism services.”

The EATP Coordinator noted that “we hope a speedy implementation of the same will support” the sector which has been deeply affected by the pandemic.

The Recovery Plan proposes immediate to short term measures aimed at mitigating the impact of the pandemic and ensuring that the sector recovers to its 2019 levels within a period of three to four years.

The measures proposed will look into key aspects such as managing the crisis, product and market development, and development of tourism and hospitality standards.

Ngenzi said: “We are also ready to play our role; work hand in hand with the EAC Secretariat and national governments to implement the tourism recovery strategy.”

Hon. Balala, underscored the importance of the Partner States working together, especially in addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism sector and in joint tourism recovery efforts.

The Ministers also considered and approved the draft regional guidelines for the resumption of services in the tourism sector and hospitality establishments. The Ministers agreed that there is a need for EAC harmonized guidelines for resumption of the tourism and hospitality services in the region.

Ministers observed that regional guidelines will help ensure coherence in tourism services’ resumption and help rebuild trust and confidence with international tourists visiting the region.

According to Ngenzi, the guidelines complement the protocols and standard operating procedures for the tourism sector developed at the national and company levels.

They include general guidelines for health protocols for tourism and hospitality establishments; specific guidelines for points of entry; specific guidelines for hospitality establishments; specific guidelines for tour operators, travel agents and tour guides; specific guidelines for tourist sites; specific guidelines for meetings and events; as well as specific guidelines for water sports and boat operations.

The approved draft EAC Tourism Marketing Strategy seeks to: develop regionally and internationally competitive multi-destination tourism products; position and market EAC as a leading regional tourism destination in Africa; brand East Africa as a leading tourism destination; enhance the marketing policy and institutional framework, and, enhance EAC Tourism Marketing and Promotion Financing.

The annual EAC Regional Tourism Expo (EARTE) was approved to improve the region’s visibility and marketing it as a single tourist destination. The Sectoral Council decided that Tanzania will host the inaugural EARTE in October, 2021.

Hon. Balala said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has taught all of us some really important lessons. For instance, domestic and regional tourism markets are really key and they can help in making the tourism sector resilient in case of future disasters and pandemics.”

“The pandemic has revealed that we can use technology to connect with each other and have meetings such as this. It is therefore really important that we invest heavily in infrastructure and connectivity.”

Lost close to 70% of international tourist arrivals in 2020

During the July 15 meeting, EAC Secretary General, Hon. Dr. Peter Mathuki, said that the tourism sector is one of the most important areas of regional cooperation owing to its contribution to the economies of the Partner States in terms of GDP (about 10%), export earnings (17%) and jobs (about 7%).

“Its multiplier effect and linkages with other sectors that are instrumental in our integration such as agriculture, transport and manufacturing are quite immense. However, the travel and tourism sector, globally, was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic more than any other economic sector,” said Dr. Mathuki.

Based on statistics reported by the Partner States, Dr Mathuki said, as a region, “we lost close to 70% of international tourist arrivals in 2020 coupled with massive losses in tourism earnings and tourism-related jobs.”

He added: “The signs this year are still bleak given the recurrent waves of the pandemic that result in the imposition of unpredictable measures and restrictions by Governments around the world from time to time.”

The EAC Deputy Secretary-General in charge of the Productive and Social Sectors, Hon. Christophe Bazivamo said: “Bolstering of both domestic and regional tourism can help keep the tourism industry afloat, therefore, sustaining the much-needed jobs and income along the entire tourism value chain.”