East Africa not ready to reap benefits as tourism destination

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Tourists set camp at Mountain Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, one of the major tourist sites.

Tourists set camp at Mountain Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, one of the major tourist sites.  

By Dorothy Nakaweesi

Posted  Tuesday, April 10   2012 at  00:00

Endowed with enduring natural diversity, great climate, rich cultures and receptive people, East Africa is one of Africa’s leading tourism destinations. Recently, US based New York Times recently ranked Tanzania and Uganda among the top 45 destinations tourists should visit in 2012.

The New York Times described Tanzania as an upscale safari destination saying: “In the last several years, tourist numbers visiting Tanzania have edged up according to the East African travel specialists Hippo Creek Safaris and Abercrombie & Kent.”

According to the New York Times, the rapid growth of Tanzania’s tourist infrastructure has been one of the other factors explaining the rapid growth in tourism numbers. Uganda, another country recognised in the region as a fast growing tourist destination, has according to the New York Times, been helped by stable and sustainable tourism, restoring the country’s luster.

Uganda is perhaps best known to tourists as the home of half of the world’s last remaining subtle creatures—mountain gorillas. Beyond the up-close gorilla encounters, Uganda is also the source of the Nile, and boasts of mountains considered among the highest in Africa — the Mountains of the Moon in Rwenzori Mountains National Park — and offers formidable white-water rapids for thrill seekers.

Kenya—the region’s leading market player, is still ahead with other regional member states even as attacks on tourists continue to threaten one of the country’s largest revenue earners.
According to recent media reports, 2011 was one of the best years for Kenya’s tourism recording a 32.8 per cent growth in earnings. International arrivals grew by 15.4 per cent representing 1.26 million arrivals in the year.

Experts observed that the growth was a great achievement given that most countries across the globe were and are still struggling to hit their tourism revenue targets. However, the country maintains that 2012 may present some challenges on the basis of slowed global growth and changing tourist priorities.

Mr Najib Balala, the Kenya Tourism minister recently warned that 2012 may be harder due to the crisis in Europe – a leading source of the country’s tourists. Recent records show that of Africa’s 6 per cent global market share, East Africa and North Africa take 1 per cent respectively, and the 4 per cent is taken up by South Africa.

Rwanda—one of the safest destinations in the region and Uganda are the only two countries in the world where mountain gorillas can be visited safely at the moment. In 2008, about 17,000 people visited the Volcanoes National Park (VNP) to see the gorillas, a large increase from the late 1980s and an impressive recovery from only 417 tourists in 1999 after the reopening of the park.

Worldwide prospects
Global predictions from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) anticipate that international tourists will this year hit one-billion up from the 980 million recorded last year.
Experts in the industry say; “If UNWTO prediction is to be achieved, EAC stands to greatly benefit from the one billion international tourists expected to travel this year.

UNWTO Secretary General, Mr Taleb Rifai recently said at the ITB Travel Trade Show in Berlin-Germany that if properly planned and managed, tourism can be one of the most promising sectors for achieving a more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable future.

“Imagine how business models would be transformed if one billion people demanded sustainable practices from hotels and tour operators. Imagine how many would benefit if one billion people bought local produce or hired a local guide. These are small actions, but given the size of our sector, their impact would be huge,” he said.

Economically, existing records show that travel and tourism contribution to EAC’s GDP will grow by nearly 5 per cent per annum over the coming seven years, slightly up from 4 per cent in 2007.
East Africa attracts about 3 million visitors annually of which 1.5 million visit Kenya with the rest are shared between Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

EAC principal tourism officer, Mr Shedrack Mashauri, says that job opportunities in the tourism sector are expected to grow from 1,737,000 recorded in 2008 to about 2,160,000 jobs by at least 2018.

Assistant Spokesperson for Africa at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Mr Julius Mucunguzi advises that there are situations where promoting the region as a tourist destination would bring more value. Combining the various packages is more attractive to potential tourists who intend to visit the region, drawing on the strength what exists in each of the EAC member states—for instance, mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda, Safaris in Kenya, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

“But below that regional promotion, countries have to put in place specific niche marketing and promotion initiatives, so that once the tourist arrives in Uganda for example, there is a range of useful information about options of places to visit and see--in specific terms,” Mucunguzi explains.

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