The Covid-19 pandemic has messed up our societies and economies and continues to change the world with the emergence of new variants. The crisis was decisive for the tourism sector in the region, which made a significant contribution to the economic growth of the bloc before the pandemic.
In 2019, the sector contributed an average of 8.1 percent to the gross domestic product of the partner countries East African Community (EAC) and resulted in an average increase in total exports of 17.2 percent.
Tourism plays a catalytic role in the overall economy through direct revenues for airlines, travel agencies and hotels, shops, restaurants and other tourist Facilities. It also contributes to indirect economic impacts through induced spending on agricultural products, manufactured goods, transportation, entertainment and handicrafts.
Travel restrictions to contain the pandemic resulted in EAC partner states receiving 92% of tourism revenues lost. The number of arrivals fell from around 7 million in 2019 to 2.25 million in 2020 (Sixth EAC Development Strategy).
With Omicron, the latest variant of the coronavirus that is leading to new border closings is it is time we began interrogating the effectiveness of travel restrictions by weighing their disruptive socio-economic effects. This seems timely as recent studies suggest that reducing transmission rates in the community could be more effective than closing borders in containing the spread of the virus.
Um Increase travel demand and stay global When borders are open, we need to ensure fair access to vaccines, coordinate international travel procedures, and use technology to authenticate test and vaccination certificates.
As the rest of the world will The resumption of travel and tourism in Africa depends largely on a coordinated response from countries in relation to travel restrictions, harmonized safety and hygiene protocols and effective communication to restore consumer confidence.
However, we must recognize that current global health concerns and travel barriers may be taking time too dwindle. Hence, the continent needs to reflect on itself and promote domestic and intra-continental tourism for more sustainable recreation.
Africa needs to address the critical factors for tourism competitiveness in order to promote intra-continental tourism. Visa openness should be at the top of our agenda.
The results of the Africa Visa Openness Report 2020 show that African citizens still need visas by 46 percent of others African countries travel while only 28 percent can get a visa upon entry. These restrictive and cumbersome visa regulations reduce the tourists’ motivation to travel and indirectly reduce the availability of important services. The continent should prioritize ongoing efforts to improve its visa openness.
Another important pillar to be addressed is the liberalization of the African skies to improve intra-continental connectivity. Try flying to North Africa from an East African capital and you will quickly see how poorly we are connected as a continent.
A journey that in some cases should not take more than five and a half hours, and in some cases it is estimated 12 to 25 hours as you have to take connecting flights over Europe or the Middle East! A direct flight would likely cost an estimated $ 600; However, you can be lucky enough to get a flight for less than $ 850.
The African Union has taken steps to realize open skies through the African Single Aviation Market (SAATM), which was created to expedite the full implementation of the Yamoussoukro decision. Once operational, better African connectivity will reduce flight time and costs, and accelerate intra-continental trade and tourism growth.
The current Covid-19 crisis and previous disease outbreaks have Africa Demonstrated readiness to deal with pandemics. Early warning systems and continued investment in public health have made the continent relatively better at handling infectious outbreaks. While well-intentioned, the requirements for pre-departure testing, confirmatory testing on arrival, and in some cases quarantine are both costly and inconvenient, and therefore discouraging travel, especially for recreational purposes.
The African Union endorsed this PanaBIOS was instrumental in disseminating Covid-19 test results on a secure digital platform accessible to all member states. The EAC has also developed an EACPass that integrates and validates Covid-19 tests and vaccination certificates from the EAC partner states to facilitate entry into the entire region. Once fully implemented, the EACPass will be integrated with other regional and continental digital health platforms to increase transparency and ensure the authenticity of certificates.
The continent could benefit from investing in targeted and effective tourism promotion campaigns for the. benefit African market. The recently launched “Tembea Nyumbani” campaign by the EAC is an important step in promoting intra-regional tourism. A similar approach in all regional economic communities could fundamentally transform the continent’s tourism and reduce our dependence on international arrivals, as has happened in Europe over the years, where intra-regional tourists account for 80 percent of all tourist arrivals.
To conclude, allow me to quote an African proverb: “Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter.” For years, international media have created negative perceptions and representations about Africa. We are shaped by scenes of civil war, hunger, corruption, greed, disease and poverty. Perhaps it is time to question our role in their narratives, but more importantly, define Africa for yourself.
Dr. Peter M. Mathuki is the Secretary General of the East African Community. Email: [emailprotected]; Twitter: @pmathuki