Efforts to harmonise tourism policies in the region have hit a snag, with member states remaining reluctant to implement proposed strategies.
According to a report tabled in the East African Community (EAC) Legislative Assembly last week, regional tourism interventions are being hampered by inadequate funding, bureaucracy, and unwillingness by partner states to prioritise them.
“We need to develop an over-arching tourism strategy for East Africa. Unfortunately, some partner states remain hesitant,” said Ms Safina Kwekwe, chairperson of the East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) committee on tourism.
East Africa receives about three million tourists annually, half of whom visit Kenya.
The sector is expected to create about 2.2 million jobs by 2018. According to the report, the region made $3.5 billion collectively from travel and tourism last year.
Ministry of Tourism statistics show that Kenya earned about Sh98 billion from tourism while Tanzania made about Sh104 billion in 2010.
Among the five partner states, Tanzania invests the most heavily in its tourism sector, which contributes about 16 per cent of its GDP.
Regionally, tourism contributes about 17.3 per cent of the community’s combined GDP.
Further, many natural resources that act as key tourist attractions are shared across borders, making it imperative to develop a regional strategy for the sector.
Cooperation in the sector is enshrined in Chapters 19 and 20 of the treaty establishing the community, where partner states agreed to develop a collective and coordinated approach to the promotion and marketing of tourism.
They also agreed to develop collective policies for conservation and sustainable utilisation of wildlife.
Many of the practical applications of the agreements are yet to see the light of day. There have been various efforts to harmonise tourism in East Africa.
In 2010, EALA passed the EAC Tourism and Wildlife Management Bill, meant to create a commission that would address issues facing the community’s wildlife and tourism industry.
Further, the piece of legislation would have streamlined tourism policies by eliminating overlapping and competing departments in the management of the sector at the national and regional levels.
However, the Bill is yet to become law as it is still awaiting approval by the Summit of the Heads of State.
The EAC’s strategic plan for 2011-2015 outlines the adoption of a regional approach to protect wildlife resources from illegal use and practices as one of the pillars of tourism development.