(Posted 25th July 2015)

The Maldives has taken a leaf from the success story of the Seychelles and with immediate effect also waived Visa requirements for tourists staying up to 30 days on the archipelago. The news was received yesterday and with over a million tourist visitors who come to the Maldives every year, this development is likely to spur a further wave of demand for vacations in some of the Indian Ocean’s best resort.

Both countries, members of the Vanilla Island Organization which markets the seven member islands (Reunion, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mayotte, Comoros, Seychelles and Maldives) only require a return ticket, a confirmed hotel booking and sufficient funds to sustain one’s stay, in the case of the Maldives approximately 150 US Dollars a day to cover accommodation, meals, inter island transport and incidentals.

This development serves as a sharpish reminder of the competition the Kenya coast is up against, where the government has just changed Visa rules demanding applications via a website in advance, coming into effect on the 01st of September. Not only is the cost an issue but the cumbersome process of applying which has already attracted significant opposition and condemnation from local tourism sources and from overseas agents who claim that this will completely wipe out any last minute bookings.

In Uganda too has shortsighted profit motive led to a doubling of Visa charges from the previous 50 US Dollars to now 100 US Dollars, literally without notice at the time of the change, equally attracting condemnation and scorn for the government for creating what one source called a ‘non tariff barrier for tourists’.

Notably, after monitoring the Maldives media, did no one mouth off the way some misguided Kenyan individuals did on the social media, who uttered comments from ‘let them stay away then, we don’t need them’ to comparing Visa regulations for the EU, the UK and the US demanding that ‘those foreigners should be treated the same way like we are treated’. This of course does not reflect the overwhelming need for Kenya to get their tourists back in large numbers to kickstart the industry especially at the Kenya coast, which has suffered severely over the past two years from a downturn in fortunes.

Instead of raising Visa fees like you did in Uganda and the added complications of advance Visa rules here in Kenya we should reduce the barriers for tourist. Those whom we lost over the last years have found other destinations for safaris and beach vacations. If we want to get them back we need to be as easy going as possible. I personally think the Maldives have done very well to recognize this and the Seychelles of course get more and more visitors even from Africa because they do not demand Visa. The changes are all wrong and should be reviewed. Egypt for instance demands Visa in advance but tourists coming with groups and on charters still get them on arrival. Their tourism like ours in Mombasa is also on its knees but at least they are smart enough to facilitate bona fide tourists’ commented a Mombasa based regular source on condition of anonymity, saying he would not wish to become the target of hysteric cyber mobbers should his name be published.

Congratulations to the powers that be in the Maldives for bucking the trend of raising Visa cost and thresholds and dumping the requirements, no doubt a big incentive for tourist visitors from here on.

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