Carmen Nibigira is the coordinator of the East African Tourism Platform
The issue. In order to see organic growth in East Africa’s tourism sector, it is paramount that there are long term strategies that are purposed towards encouraging local people to fully participate. This will not only help to supplement foreign tourism but could also be a key ingredient in the creation of a sustainable tourism sector.
What is your role in the tourism cycle?
We are the voice of the private sector that deals with government agencies to promote tourism with the view of fostering dynamic synergies and networks.
What kind of institutions do you work with?
We work with recognised tourism institutions in both government and the private sector such as Kenya Tourism Federation and Uganda Tourism Board. But beyond government agencies, we also work with different associations especially from the private sector.
Do you mean to say all East African countries subscribe to EATP?
Some, including Tanzania and Burundi have not subscribed but we have closely been working with the private sector in these countries.
But how do you promote the region without engaging key government organisations in some countries?
Of course there are some aspects that they have not joined such as the single tourism visa but as East Africa, we have begun the process of feeding into each other’s tourism markets through established networks.
What we want to see is that the consumer has access to all destinations within East Africa through use of single tourism visas, national IDs, student cards or inter-state resident passes.
What is your immediate priority?
We want to drive our agenda as a solution-oriented organisation with focus on benefiting the private sector, consumers and citizens within the region.
We want to make sure that regional citizens benefit from the tourism sector by either getting market for their products or becoming active participants.
Traditionally, tourism marketing within East Africa is western driven. We want to change this and engage a wider clientele.
What have been your challenges so far?
Our major challenge has been how we bring a myriad of organisations into one fold. We deal with a range of organisations including tourism ministries, tourism boards and a number of private associations across the region. But our biggest challenge is finding common solutions that can connect all these with satisfaction.
But beyond this, we are working on solutions beyond the customer that among them include negotiating with airlines to offer affordable regional connectivity and addressing the issue of hotel classification across the region.
Have you had any headway on some of these?
We have made some progress. For instance the single tourism visas are now available and internal tourism can be enhanced now by regional citizens using their national IDs to access their countries.
Also some airlines are taking the lead to cut down the cost of regional travel.
This will not only help to open the skies but will also lead to efficient and easy tourist travel across the region.
We want to divert attention from elsewhere and make East Africa the destination of choice.
But have you put any efforts in promoting regional and local tourism?
It is beyond promoting tourism but raising awareness about what is available with specifics that target the local population.
Our parks have always targeted Western tourists but it is now upon us and other players to convince locals to get on the bandwagon.
We should look at affordability as well as satisfying their needs and expectations.
What is your wish for the future?
We need to offer the new way forward as we encourage local tourism. We need to change the narrative from Western to local as we leverage on what we already have to promote the sector.
This will not only deliver improved incomes but will also market the region as a single destination with shared targets.