Conceived from the collective desire for regional integration, born in Kenya, now the eight-year-old is to be parented by Rwanda, on behalf of the East African Community.
The East African Tourism Platform, or EATP, was initiated in Kenya in 2012, and is now to be spearheaded from Rwanda.
As the region’s tourist offices consider how to revitalise the sector, after the devastation to the industry, caused by Covid-19, Rwanda gets the difficult challenge of leading, or in the organisation’s parlance, hosting the EATP.
As of this week, the organisation will now be led by the Rwanda Chamber of Tourism, the Private Sector Federation body responsible for tourism in Rwanda.
Thanking the outgoing host, Kenya, the Director-General of the Rwanda Chamber of Tourism, Frank Gisha Mugisha, undertook to “work to take the organisation to the next level.”
The handover ceremony at a press conference, was part of a two-day conference on tourism, attended by delegates from all five of the East African Community (EAC) member states.
Rwanda and the rest of the community, will have their work cut out.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has estimated that Covid-19 will cost world tourism upwards of $1.2 trillion, equal to 1.5% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
And if, as is likely, global travel continues to be affected by the pandemic, the losses could rise to $2.2 trillion, equal to 2.8% of the globe’s GDP. This may further rise to $3.3 trillion, 4.2% of the world’s GDP, if there is a twelve-month hiatus in international travel.
The tourism sector is hugely important to the world’s economies, providing employment to millions of people. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, in the last two decades, the value of tourism economies has tripled from $490 billion to $1.6 trillion.
The Eastern body believes it can command a sizable share of that market, if it can attract a sufficient number of travellers. And according to EATP chairman, Kenya’s Fred Odek, there is no better way of doing that promoting domestic and regional tourism.
“For people to come to you, you must show that you yourself enjoy your own country. The more you travel, the more you tweet, you are telling the world to come and enjoy it with you. Don’t wait until the world comes to you, show the world what you have, and the way you do that, is by consuming it.”
In giving the floor to the attendant media to ask questions, the moderator had pleaded that “politics questions please” much to the amused relief of the panel, who were almost certainly expecting those very types of questions.
“We advocate to governments and show them what we lose without cooperation, and what we gain with it, but we don’t engage in political questions” said Odek.
But politics is the elephant in the room, if not an entire herd of them. The conference was held in Rwanda’s capital Kigali. While they can travel and enjoy the many breath-taking sights in their own country, Rwandans are best advised not to venture into neighbouring Uganda, where for well over a year now, the intelligence services have been rounding up Rwandans, subjecting them to torture, to which some have succumbed and died, all for the crime of being Rwandan. Travel to Burundi is not much safer for Rwandans.
One of the achievements of which EATP is rightly proud, is the single East African Tourist Visa, and their successful campaign for EAC citizens to travel in each other’ countries on their national identity cards. Yet, for reasons that can only be political, two of the five EASC countries are yet to sign up to it.
For the foreseeable future, the travel advice to Rwandans, is to avoid going to Uganda for their safety and wellbeing. It is a reality with which the EATP must engage, if it wishes to encourage Rwandans to visit their closest neighbour.