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Hotels optimistic over regional visa despite low awareness levels

COAST
By Philip Mwakio | June 28th 2015

The single tourist visa and use of national identity cards for travel within Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda will boost the sector and spur the economies of the region, industry players have said.

Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC) Coast branch Executive officer Sam Ikwaye said if properly explored, the new initiative will offer a new frontier in domestic tourism.

“With some travel advisories still in place, the execution of the new initiative can offer an escape route in case advisories are not lifted or new ones are imposed,” Mr Ikwaye said.

He was speaking during the annual (KAHC) symposium that ended yesterday in Mombasa.

Under the agreement, tourists are required to pay only $100 (about Sh10,000) at the border entry point as opposed to the previous practice of paying visa charges of $50 (about Sh,5,000) per country. The pact was meant to increase the number of tourists visiting the three partner states.

Lucrative market

However, reports show that awareness on the common visa and use of national IDs for regional travel is yet to hit the 50 per cent mark, one year after its launch.

Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF) – a  private sector umbrella body – commissioned research into the level of awareness on the common visa and use of IDs for travel in the three states.

The research commissioned last February established that up to 58.1 per cent of travellers had neither used or not interacted with someone who had used the common visa, while 47 per cent of travellers showed lack of familiarity on its existence.

“Most immigration officials interviewed in the survey were aware of the visa and the countries involved in the initiative, 67 per cent were not familiar with the cost and 25 per cent lacked familiarity with regard to the application process,” the research report said.

Kenya Safari Lodges & Hotels general manager Silas Kiti said member states needed to be proactive in reaching out to Tanzania and Burundi, the East African Community members, who had not joined the visa agreement.

“This will be ideal for local investors, who shall expand their net to tap into the lucrative East African market,” Kiti said.

High expectations

David Chiawo, a Strathmore University Centre for Tourism and Hospitality research consultant, says the visa processing procedure has been described as poor by travellers, so there is a need for review and improvement.

“The survey further revealed limited that there was little information available for travellers and immigration officials, with responses ranging from very poor to average.

“Only 25 per cent of travellers and less than 15 per cent of immigration officials rate the current information as good,” Chiawo said.

Despite this, KTF chairperson Lucy Karume said the fact that many travellers, immigration officials, travel and trade officers showed high expectations on the single tourist visa was a good indication for the tourism sector.

The study recommends induction and training of immigration officials to improve their level of awareness on key elements of the tourism agreement, including cost, application procedures and benefits.

Rwanda Development Board senior promotion officer for tourism and conservation, Philibert Ndandali, said the travel agreement could help increase arrivals during recovery after a huge tourism slump.

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