(eTN) – As the tourist boards and private sector participants start to make their way to Berlin for the world’s biggest tourism trade show, at least four of the East African Community (EAC) member countries have gone on record over their intent and purpose for 2012 and beyond, regarding what new plans they have for their respective tourism sectors.
In Uganda, President Museveni had just launched a sustainable tourism initiative, while in London for the Somalia Conference – Uganda is the largest contributor for the AMISOM force – while the long-promised tourism police unit was launched in Kampala last week by the Minister of Tourism Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu. Both events got ample press coverage and praise, but criticism was also being voiced by stakeholders who blamed government for “one-off showcase events instead of giving the tourism board and ministry enough money to do their jobs, implementing the tourism policy , and operationalizing the tourism levy to help sustain the sector,”
Said one regular source in an email response to questions asked: “Our tourism policy was launched way back in 2005 or thereabouts. Some elements of it have never been implemented up to now. I know that Rwanda, for instance, looked at our policy back then, took good issues on board, and you can see where they stand as a sector. There, government is not giving lip service but real support. UTB [the Uganda Tourism Board] live, from hand [to] mouth; the ministry has no budget worth talking about, and from the little, a lot has been taken, in fact, to finance those electricity subsidy payments and other extravagant expenses made by government.
“The law provides for the introduction of a levy for tourism. From what I have gathered, it is to help finance UTB, the hotel school, assist in the maintenance of cultural and heritage sites, and so forth. Kenya had the training levy for so long, and see where they have gone? Instead of all the time, when under pressure from the sector, coming up with a one-off event for which there is never money to follow up, government should concentrate on finding the funds the sector needs.
“Remember CNN? There was never any follow up, and the effects have long evaporated. They give some money for a big conference, but then the event moves on and the spotlight goes with it. The tourism police is a good idea but was that not launched a while ago and failed to work? What has changed now that they think it will work this time?
“I think it is high time that we not only float good ideas but see them through and implement them. 2012 was supposed to be the Visit Uganda Year, and we are turning 50 as a nation this year too. What do we have to show for it? What is government doing to build on these foundations?”
Across in Kenya, the mood was in comparison upbeat. With new arrival and revenue records under the belt of the industry for 2011, the sector is hopeful to do even better in 2012, although official growth forecasts are said to be flat, looking at maintaining the 2011 levels in view of the Eurozone crisis. The opening of new resorts on the coast, the expected boost for the Lamu region as a result of the new port and rail/road links being created and a number of additional safari properties setting new standards, are all bound to reassure the sector of continued growth and keeping Kenya in the limelight. National airline, Kenya Airways, also on the fast track to expand destinations and frequencies, is due to get more aircraft delivered in 2012 and more in years beyond, helping the tourism sector with more seats to more places than ever before, and the growing interest of new airlines wishing to fly to Nairobi is evidence also of the confidence global players have in the future of Kenya’s economic development.
In Tanzania, the tourism industry is quietly confident that they will reap the benefits of their marketing efforts last year for the 50th anniversary of the mainland’s independence from Britain and a strong trend for safari holidays which yield substantially higher revenues compared with the “beach only” packages, which dilute Kenya’s per tourist average spending. There, however, the tourism sector also hopes that excesses like TANAPA’s extortionate practice of last year, when they held tourists literally hostage over disputes on fees with camps and safari lodges, will not be repeated, nor will controversial environmental issues continue to cloud the future of the sector with such issues as the Serengeti Highway, a planned railway potentially touching the Serengeti, too; Uranium mining in the Selous Game Reserve; and the equally-controversial creation of a new harbor in the middle of the Coelacanth habitat for which the Tanga Marine Reserve was created only a few years ago.
The shiniest prospects, though, are told by Rwanda, where new tourism activities and attractions were created and launched last year, like birding routes outside the protected areas and the hugely popular “Congo Nile Trail,” which leads 227 kilometers along the shores of Lake Kivu, through some of the most scenic parts of Rwanda, from Kamembe to Gisenyi. This trail offers access to the Nyungwe National Park, home of 13 species of primates, the only canopy walk in the entire East African region, and also near Gishwati Forest, which sooner or later will also be made a national park, Rwanda’s fourth. Stakeholders are still concerned, though, over the rise in permit fees to see the prized mountain gorillas, which will from June 1 rise to US$750 per person, but a regular Rwanda Development Board (RDB) source claimed that the extra money made from the permits will be spent on giving added protection to the gorillas, adding more important infrastructure to the parks and helping to finance a greater marketing and PR budget needed to keep Rwanda in the spotlight.
“Our projected revenues for 2011 were substantially exceeded. And later in 2012, new hotels and convention centers in Kigali will be opened, which we have to promote to bring more visitors to Rwanda. MICE business is becoming very important to us, and the new flights by Qatar Airways and then Turkish Airline will bring more seats, better connectivity. It is important not to sit back and rest on our laurels but to continue working hard, working with our colleagues in the sector, the airlines, and with ICTP to promote our type of sustainable and environment-friendly green tourism.”
The fifth EAC member country, Burundi, has been notably quiet and unresponsive once again to inquiries made, in spite of having won the “Best African Exhibitor Award” at last year’s ITB, following four successive years of wins for Rwanda. One source in Bujumbura attributed this to the fact that the country is still Francophone, unlike Rwanda, which has made English the first language of business and education and joined the Commonwealth.
Fodder for thought for the East African tourism boards and private sectors, how to meet and master the challenges ahead for 2012 and the years beyond. Good luck to all, though, in Berlin, and let’s put East Africa as a region on the map, irrespective of our politician’s failure to introduce a single visitor visa for the region, as was promised last year.