EAC develops approach to revive tourism sector affected by Covid-19

The East African Community, EAC, has developed a joint regional approach to revive the tourism sector in the region amid the covid 19 pandemic.

Tourism has been the most affected sector since March 2020, when EAC countries took action to contain the spread of covid 19. Measures that were taken included closing airports and land entry points and maritime, both international and in the region.

About six months later, the airports were reopened under strict operating procedures, which also involved training of airport personnel by the EAC and the regional aviation body, the Safety Oversight Agency and civil aviation security.

Previous measures to integrate the regional tourism sector, such as the joint marketing of the destination, the single tourist visa, as well as regional tourism fairs, have not borne fruit.

The EAC Tourism and Wildlife Management Sector Council has now approved the EAC COVID-19 Regional Tourism Recovery Plan which aims to revive the sector which has been hit hard by the pandemic.

The ministers note that some EAC partner states have already instituted measures such as the formulation of stimulus plans aimed at reviving the sector and supporting tourism investments in the region, including small and micro enterprises.

In Uganda for example, the government capitalized on the Development Bank of Uganda and, along with the European Union, provided low-cost loans to tourism businesses, although many, especially micro and small businesses, were crying to scandal.

During their virtual meeting, the ministers agreed on the need for a collective and coordinated approach to the revival of tourism which involves interventions aimed at strengthening the measures being developed and implemented at the national level.

The ministers also approved the draft regional guidelines for the resumption of services in the tourism sector and hotel establishments, but stressed the need for countries to harmonize their national guidelines.

The regional guidelines would then ensure a coordinated resumption of tourism services in the region and help restore confidence with international tourists.

The ministers also endorsed the draft regional tourism marketing strategy, which aims to position the EAC region as the best and most affordable regional tourism destination in Africa.

This strategy will be achieved by developing competitive multi-destination tourism products at regional and international level; position and market EAC as a leading regional tourism destination in Africa and make EAC Africa a leading tourism destination.

The strategy also involves improving the marketing policy and the institutional framework and improving the financing of marketing and tourism promotion.

In Uganda, tourism marketing and promotion receives 15 billion shillings, while product development and research receives about 3 billion shillings per year.

Kenya has provided US $ 21 billion (Kes 630 million) for tourism promotion, in addition to the US $ 56 billion (Kes 1.7 billion) donated to the country’s Tourism Fund.

If the plans are implemented as approved by the Minister, the EAC will organize an EAC Regional Tourism Exhibition (EARTE) every year to enhance the visibility of the region and market it as a unique tourist destination.

The 1st EARTE will then be hosted by Tanzania in October 2021. Currently, each country has its annual promotional exhibitions, Uganda being the Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo, POATE.

The chairman of the board, Kenya Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, stressed the need for partner states to work together, especially to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism and in the joint efforts to revive tourism.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught everyone some really important lessons. For example, national and regional tourism markets are essential and they can help make the tourism sector resilient in the event of future disasters and pandemics.

The pandemic has revealed that we can use technology to connect and hold meetings like this. So it’s really important that we invest heavily in infrastructure and connectivity, ”Balala said.

For his part, EAC General Secretary Peter Mathuki said that the tourism sector is one of the most important areas of cooperation for EAC due to its contribution to economies.

Tourism is estimated to account for 10% of GDP, 17% of export earnings and around 7% of jobs in the region.

“It’s a multiplier effect and the links with other sectors that contribute to our integration, such as agriculture, transportation and manufacturing, are quite immense.

However, the travel and tourism industry, globally, has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic more than any other economic sector, ”Mathuki said.

According to statistics provided by partner states, the region lost nearly 70% of international tourist arrivals in 2020, as well as massive losses in tourism income and tourism-related jobs, according to Dr Mathuki.

“The signs this year are still gloomy given the recurring waves of the pandemic that result in unpredictable measures and restrictions being imposed by governments around the world from time to time,” the Secretary-General said. URN

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