NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 18 – Plans for the East African Community (EAC) to promote the region as a single tourism destination are being hampered by Tanzanian’s reluctance to discuss how the partner states can go about it.
Tourism Minister Najib Balala on Monday accused his Tanzanian counterparts of refusing to cooperate with the other members to work out how they can address the various issues in the tourism sector.
“I have been trying to bring the East African Council of Ministers together but it is not very easy. Tanzania is not cooperating. We have been having challenges with Tanzania not only on opening up the Serengeti-Maasai Mara border but also on just setting up meetings,” he complained.
Correspondence to Tanzania’s Tourism Ministry has gone largely unanswered the minister who was addressing private sector players and ministers during the Prime Minister Round Table forum added.
The continued closure of the border, despite the fact that the region is trying to implement the Common Market Protocol which envisages open borders not only affects the performance of the sector but the integration process, he went on.
There are many issues that still remain unresolved chief among them the issuance of a single entry visa to their national parks, a situation which the minister said was frustrating him as it was working against Kenya’s interest.
“When our drivers reach Tanzania, they get arrested yet when their drivers and tour buses come to Kenya, we treat them as if they are local drivers. I’m getting frustration particularly from (Kenya’s) Trade ministry that is accusing me of not taking action against this imbalance,” he said.
The construction of a proposed highway through the Serengeti National Park, which conservationists have warned would have detrimental consequences on the two countries wildlife and tourism sectors, is another issue which is further expected to strain the relations between two countries.
This is particularly so as President Jakaya Kikwete recently maintained that the construction of the road would go on arguing that it would not have any negative impact on the larger Serengeti ecosystem and the Maasai Mara National Reserve as it has been claimed.
But while negotiations are still going on, Mr Balala was of the view that the East African Community Secretariat should intervene to ensure a level playing field for all.
At the same time the minister called on the regional governments to first adopt online payment systems which would boost tourist numbers in the region.
Like the rest of Africa, East Africa hardly markets its tourism products over the Internet which presents a challenge when it comes to finding and booking tourism destinations on the web.
“There are too many queues at the airport particularly when passengers are arriving; we don’t have a credit card system where people can pay and this is frustrating tourism. We need more counters, this is not rocket science, it can be done in one week,” he pointed out.
Meanwhile, he disclosed that together with the Transport Ministry, they were developing a national strategy of increasing tourists and scheduled airlines into the country. Doing so would make a case for the upgrading of the country’s airports which have been done to ensure that they can handle more passengers.