(eTN) – A regional meeting is taking place in Mombasa under the auspices of the East African Community (EAC) to discuss the advancing of articles 115 and 116 of the EAC Treaty, concerning greater integration and cooperation of the tourism and wildlife sectors. The stakeholders are set to prepare a relevant outlook for the eventual launch of a regional tourism and wildlife coordination agency, which is due to carry out projects and programs as directed by the member states, such as a single tourist visa covering the entire region.
Private sector stakeholders, though, were critical of the establishment of another EAC agency, citing the ongoing duplication of work and licensing requirements in the aviation sector, where the launch of the Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency (CASSOA) has not led to the national regulators yielding any significant powers to the new agency and instead retained much of their functions, causing the costly duplication of processes as fights for fiefdoms continue to dominate the agenda there.
“What is this agency supposed to achieve? Joint marketing was for long agreed, like a common stand at big trade fairs for East Africa, like under one roof, but this has not happened. It could have resulted in savings for participants, greater exposure to world markets for our region, but individual country’s protectionism and fears have swept that aside. As long as our aircraft cannot carry tourists into the national parks of our neighbors, as long as our vehicles are treated as foreign and often prohibited entrance to the parks with our own clients, what has changed? As long as Bologonja between Serengeti and Masai Mara is closed for safari tourists, what has changed?
“I fear this is just another scheme to create jobs for bureaucrats, which will cost [us] our money and really not be productive. My colleagues from aviation just told me that CASSOA is now set to add more fees to already expensive ticket prices in the region. This is not what we expect from EAC, to bring another layer of administration into play, which duplicates things and costs a lot of more money we could spend in a better way,” a regular source from the safari operator fraternity in Mombasa said to this correspondent overnight when tossing ideas about on email.
It is expected, therefore, that little progress will be made on issues the private sectors from member states are keen to discuss, like cross-border operations, a firm date for the launch of the single tourist visa, and subsequent free movement of duly-registered expatriates from one member state to another, transboundary management of protected areas – especially in view of a crucial piece of intended legislation being referred to the next EAC Summit over the controversial Serengeti Highway project by Tanzania – and a range of other issues like freedom of movement by tour guides from one country to another with their own tourists instead of being forced to use local guides who often fail to live up to standards and subsequently diminish the safari experience by clients spending a lot of money on their trips.
Admittedly though, the EAC has at least spurred discussions on crucial matters like harmonizing tourism and wildlife policies and legislation, introducing a common set of standards for the classification of hospitality businesses but is yet to make “the big impact” on the sector’s free flow across the region like in the “old days of the first East African Community” when safari itineraries regularly covered all the attractions of the region and when flights by then East African Airways would connect tourists from Murchisons Falls to the Serengeti. Will those days return under the new EAC? Time will tell.