MORE EXCUSES FOR FAILURE TO IMPLEMENT COMMON TOURIST VISA
(Posted 08th July 2013)
The just concluded meeting of the East African Community’s Committee on Tourism and Wildlife once more discussed the long overdue common tourist Visa, which was due to have been introduced by 2012, and that number having been pushed from previously envisaged earlier dates.
While there is broad consensus among the tourism private sector that this measure is crucially important to encourage tourists to use their stay in the region to visit more than just one country of East Africa, it has been bureaucrats who have stalled the projects. Squabbles over how the Visa fees paid on entry into the EAC would be distributed in case of multiple visits and largely untrue statements over the state of unreadiness vis a vis data capturing of cross border transit, have kept the hopes for an early start down at sub basement level.
Ministers and delegations returning from the meeting in Bujumbura / Burundi clearly sang from different hymn sheets again lending credence that shortsighted national interests to keep the entire 50 US Dollar Visa fee to themselves are to blame for the lack of progress.
At present it is only Kenya, which grants free re-entry for tourists who on arrival in Nairobi or Mombasa paid their 50 US Dollar fee and then went to visit neighbouring countries within the East Africa Community, while the four other countries at present under such a scenario make tourists pay again when coming back, as if to punish them for wanting to visit more than just the country of initial entry.
‘I travel a lot in East Africa because I send my tourists from Uganda to Kenya, to Tanzania, to Rwanda. Everywhere you go your details of the passport are captured, you are fingerprinted and a picture is taken to meet ICAO’s biometric standards. Now how difficult is it, after all from what I understand those systems were initially sponsored by the US to improve monitoring and surveillance against terror suspects, how difficult could it be to link them, and regularly cross load those data. Say a tourist lands in Entebbe, he enters the system there and then at immigration. Now if he leaves for instance by road to Kenya at Malaba, again Uganda and Kenya Immigration capture those details. If that tourist flies back to Entebbe from Nairobi, the same system take the records again. Just share the damned information, that is all to make sure that the system then tells you to how many countries in the EAC one has been during one visit. Accordingly they can share the initial 50 US paid with their neighbours. My late father told me in his days after the first community was formed, there were no border controls when travelling by air or road between the three member states. We must get back to that. You go to Europe and have a Schengen Visa. You travel among those countries as you please, no checks, no controls. Those are a lot more countries than our five. It is national greed to keep the Visa money which has stopped the introduction of a common tourist Visa and we are losing money. Some of my clients refuse to visit Kenya when they hear they have to pay another Visa fee to get in there and when they drive back Uganda also charges them again. If we want more tourists we must make it simple and easy for them but as of now, our governments have their hands in the tourists pockets to siphon their money out of their wallets. Now they start putting VAT on accommodation to at least balance that increase by giving us a common Visa to reduce cost when they come to East Africa. The protocols for free movement in the EAC is clear but they are just not ready to implement it and tourism is a loser here’ said a source met at the ongoing Routes Africa meeting in Kampala, when discussing the issue and finding out how airlines could benefit from more tourists travelling with them across the region, were it not for the added cost of Visa which in the case of a family of four, when travelling to three countries, can run into 800 US Dollars for Visa at 50 per head, including the return to the country of initial entry, if it is not Kenya where the exception then applies sparing the payment of another 200 US Dollars. ‘No wonder Africa only managed to get 53 million travellers in 2012 compared to way over a billion worldwide. It is such issues which hinder our progress. There is a common Visa in the Caribbean, a common Visa for Europe and even SADC has introduced one, but for us, we fail to grab such opportunities because some countries are worried over their share’ did the source then add.
The tourism private sectors, under the East African Tourism Platform, are continuing to push for the earliest possible introduction of the common tourist Visa, an idea which was floated well over a decade ago and as of now still remains a distant vision. Watch this space.