For a number of years now the tourism industry has been lobbying the governments in Southern Africa to come up with a single UNIVISA that will allow free movement of tourists within the region encouraging tourism.
It now seems that with Rwanda championing the same in East Africa the race is on to see which region will find the solution first.
The East African Community (EAC) partner states may soon waiver tourist fees if the single visa system that has been proposed.
The revolutionary proposal presented by Rwanda’s delegation to the EAC’s technical meeting seeks to boost the flow of tourists into the EAC region through the removal of Visa barriers.
According to the proposal, tourists will only need to use the same visa they acquire at the point of entry into the EAC region, including Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda, to access all the three countries without paying any extra fees or stopping into other embassies.
While explaining the Rwandan position on the issue, Rica Rwigamba, the head of conservation and tourism at Rwanda’s Development Board, sounded passionate about the potential blessings of a single visa to tourism in the EAC region. “The tourism sector will grow considerably if both the visa and the fee impediments are removed, “said Rica. In a recent meeting by the Heads of States, held in Entebbe, Uganda, Rwanda was given the responsibility of ensuring that the harmonized EAC visa is established.
Recently, Swaziland Tourism Authority Board Chairman, Zacharia Dlamini, urged politicians within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to speed up the process of introducing a UNIVISA for tourists’ easy access to the region.
Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa (RETOSA) Marketing and Communications Director Kwakye Donkor said Swaziland was among the few countries identified to pilot the UNIVISA before it was officially rolled out. He said the other countries also piloting it were Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. He said the UNIVISA issue was an old but sensitive one as it affected a number of sectors within the government structures of the different SADC member states. He said there were a lot of factors at play when it comes to introducing the UNIVISA.
While delegates from Kenya and Uganda supported the single visa proposal in the EAC, a few obstacles still stand in the way of its implementation. The visa harmonization has proved difficult because of the varying fees charged by the countries. Usually, single entry fees range from $5 to 50 while multiple entry fees vary from $50 to 100 depending on the country. Moreover, delegates from Uganda and Kenya insisted that even with a single visa, the fees should not be abolished because they are an important source of national revenue.
According to Grace Awulo, Uganda’s tentative head of tourism, the tourists should keep paying the fees to respective member states.
While Kenya favors the single visa move, it prefers that all the outstanding issues are completely discussed and agreed upon before the proposal can be implemented. Tourism generates massive revenue and employment in the EAC region.
The tourism leaders and members of the board of directors of RETOSA noted with great concern that a single visa programme is timely as the number of foreign tourists visiting Southern Africa is increasing rapidly.
“We are hoping for a speedy resolution of the process as we are all aware that it affects the tourism industry across the region. The delay is caused by the fact that there are a lot of stakeholders who need to be involved in the whole process for it to be finalised” said Kwakye Donkor of RETOSA.
“We are working on the UNIVISA, which will give greater access of Southern Africa to its source markets. Zimbabwe is a pilot project State” says Zimbabwe’s Tourism Minister, Walter Mzembi.
He said some of the key enablers to tourism included currency convertibility and use of plastic money, efficient ports of entry management, protection and preservation of national heritage and monuments and product packaging and regional integration and development of accompanying satellite accounting systems.
Global travel and tourism generate $1,2 trillion in direct income, receives nearly a billion people, employs 240 million, and its global impact on gross domestic product is believed to be in the region of $6 trillion.
Africa should see the future. Africa should see beyond 2013 and beyond. Africa should seize the moment and make an impression. A lasting one! There is no better way to make the future happen than to prepare for it. And the time for Africa to act is NOW.
Date: 9 August 2013