A wider and more enthusiastic acceptance of the uni-visa by all the countries in the East African region will boost tourism. For that reason the Kenyan Government, through the Ministry of Tourism, has called upon reluctant countries to adopt the uni-visa at the launch of the Magical Kenya Travel Expo.
Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya have so far adopted the uni-visa, which allows travelers to move across their borders by use of a single visa or the National Identification Card. Tanzania and Burundi have remained reluctant to adopt the feature.
The launch of the Magical Kenya Travel Expo brought together tourism officials from different countries including the High Commissioner of Uganda, the Chief Tourism Officer at Rwanda Development Board and the East African Tourism platform. The Expo, on its sixth session, is a venture of the Kenya Tourism Board to market Kenya’s tourism potential to countries across the globe in a bid to boost the sector.
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary of Tourism Najib Balala called on countries to unify and boost the region’s attractiveness to the global community. The single visa costs USD100, USD50 lower than other visas.
“We have one visa, one product that you don’t feel is a competition… I highly appreciate the meeting held by the northern corridor member states, Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya, and commit to that unity of purpose to work together… Kenyans can go to Uganda and Rwanda with an ID… we are waiting for our brothers in Tanzania to join us and we hope it will be very soon,” he said.
Kenya’s Tourism sector made a turnaround in 2016, as it registered a 14% rise in arrivals for the first quarter of 2016 and a 15% rise of the sector to GDP in the first 8 months of 2016 compared to a recession of 5% in the last quarter of 2015. This is attributable to new incentives and waivers offered to tourists coming into the country. Kenya now hopes to welcome over 1.5 million tourists in 2016.
“The various incentives that have been rolled out by the government to support the tourism sector are also making the difference. These include the waiver of tourist visa fee for children under the age of 16, the reduction of park entry fees and charter incentive program to stimulate increased demand for our coast product,” said Jimi Kariuki, Chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board.
Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala commended the willing countries for their drive towards opening borders to people and trade. Other countries represented agreed that unity and a non-compete among them would help to attract visitors from traditional and new tourist countries.
“In the course of the discussion, it has been repeated that as a region we are not in conflict, we are not competing, we are competing with the world and so we need to come together so that indeed we can market ourselves as a region and market ourselves to the entire world,” said Angelina Wapakhabulo the Uganda High Commissioner and Permanent Representative to UN-Habitat.
“Coming together is winning together and step by step we will get there,” added Belise Kariza the Chief Tourism Officer of the Rwanda Development Board.
Over 137 countries and 11 airlines are expected to participate in the Magical Kenya Travel Expo for the next two days. To date, around 4,000 uni-visas have been issued to facilitate movement within the three countries, which has boosted domestic tourism in the region.