East African countries have to work together to harmonising policies and standards of conduct in the region in order to become a better tourism destination on the continent, according to Carmen Nibigira, Regional Coordinator of East Africa Tourism.
This comes on the back of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa event where key stakeholders in the tourism sector discussed ways of marketing the region better.
"We believe that we need to first of all work together and then create destination in East Africa and that is the starting point of the conversation, by harmonising some of our policies," said Carmen Nibigira.
She adds: "By working together to have the same harmonisation of standards and code of conduct in the way we do business here and that will drive the discussion of how we are going as a destination."
"Tourism is led by the private sector but the public sector is there to facilitate, private sector do not engage in tourism formulation, come up with acts. We believe that the private sector and the tourism sector have to sit down together and say where do we want to take East Africa as a destination."
Nibigira mentions how the success of the single tourist visa, which is operational in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, is slightly tainted by the absence of Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan and the rest of the region.
"The first challenge we have to understand is that in East Africa the five countries have different development phases, Kenya with maybe five to six decades of tourism, Rwanda maybe less than two decades of tourism, others are at a different pace and level of engagement in tourism.
She adds that at a national level, each country has different priorities, tourism policies, but that is not a problem, it's a challenge.
"As a region we have some... amazing products and services we can offer, first of all to East Africans as the first point of consumers and then beyond to the international market.
Another issue is that she thinks the region looks at tourism from the perspective of an international consumer where they should focus on East Africa first with a regional approach that is a success locally then expand internationally.
Another issue mitigating the success in Africa is the topic of an open sky policy and an open visas across the continent because it raises questions of how practical that would be, to that Nibigira says political will is needed first, then economies of scale.
"In Africa, it is still hard to connect from one place to another - we have made a lot of efforts in using roads, infrastructure and water, we can cross-borders 24 hours, but when it comes to airspace, we see people still saying 'we want to protect our national carriers, we don't want any low-cost airline to enter," she said.
However, East Africa Tourism sees this from the consumer’s point of view, there is no point in going through several hours of travel and through various countries in what should be an hour’s experience.
"That is the bottom line - let connectivity drive tourism, economies of scale and then this region will thrive."