Experts in tourism sector from Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional bloc that includes governments from the Horn of Africa, Nile Valley and the Great Lakes, are meeting in Kigali to discuss ways to market regional tourism products in Eastern Africa.
The three-day meeting will focus on marketing regional tourism products in Eastern Africa and addressing the obstacles to regional tourism development.
At the meeting, organised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, sub-regional office for eastern Africa (UNECA, SRO-EA) and tourism bodies in the region, participants stressed the need to work together to promote tourism in the region.
“It is imperative that we work together to improve every aspect of the experience we offer to our visitors, from their arrival, their movement and experiences within and across our countries but, most importantly, customer care and quality service,” said Belise Kariza, chief tourism officer at Rwanda Development Board.
It was also observed that regional initiatives like East Africa Tourist visa, use of ID cards as well as open skies and joint marketing through various platforms such as international fairs, would boost intra-regional tourism in Africa.
“These initiatives will enhance regional tourism development and trade opportunities among others. In my view, they need to be upgraded,” Kariza said.
“Tourism is an important contributor to Africa’s economy. Thus, Africa needs to maximise tourism development through regional cooperation.
“Product diversification is also important if we are to realise our growth targets. We should diversify tourism products based on potential segments such as traditional products, MICE, among others.”
Geoffrey Manyara, economic affairs officer for UNECA, SRO-EA called on countries to create special tourism products attractive to tourists.
“We have abundant natural resources but our products are similar. We should create attractions that are unique,” he said.
“In Rwanda, tourism contributes 8. 3 per cent to the national GDP while in countries like Uganda and Kenya it contributes 6 to 7 per cent. Tourism is significant and can be a vehicle for development of other sectors,” Manyara added.
Despite the commitment to collaborate, infrastructure deficiency, perceived insecurity and negative publicity from the western media are some of the challenges that tourism in the region encounters.
“We also have different levels of development and some countries do not prioritise tourism. This is a challenge to address holistically as a region. We need to work together and market the region as a single destination,” said Grace Aulo, director of tourism in Uganda’s ministry of tourism.
To address the issues, a sustainable tourism master plan that aims to ensure lasting peace and security in IGAD region as a prerequisite for sustainable tourism development in Eastern Africa was drawn up.
Participants also called on citizens to use social media to promote tourism in their countries.