From 20 to 22 November, the joint 3rd East African Regional Tourism Expo (EARTE’23) and the Magical Kenya Travel Expo was held in Nairobi, Kenya, at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre Grounds. The three-day Expo provided an opportunity for EAC Partner States to create awareness of tourism investment opportunities and address the challenges affecting the tourism and wildlife sectors in the region.
During the opening ceremony, regional Ministers responsible for EAC Affairs and Tourism and Wildlife underscored the importance of diversifying tourism products beyond traditional tourism attractions and joint promotion of the region as a catalyst for revamping the EAC region as a single tourism destination.
Speaking while officially launching the event, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary in charge of Tourism and Wildlife, Dr Alfred Mutua, who was also the Chief Guest, said that the Expo has brought together over 100 hosted buyers and 300 exhibitors, providing an opportunity for the region to jointly showcase its unique resources. “This year’s theme, 'Tourism for Green Growth,' underscores our commitment to sustainable tourism. Kenya is set to introduce initiatives such as electric cars in parks and eco-rating schemes in our quest to propel tourism and our green growth agenda,” he said.
Dr Mutua added that the Kenyan government is focusing on infrastructure improvement, security, incentives and marketing campaigns to sustain tourism growth. “As part of our five-year plan, we target 5.5 million international tourist arrivals and a $6.3 billion annual contribution by 2028.”
As a highlight to the event, Dr Mutua also launched the new EAC tourism brand “Visit East Africa-Feel the Vibe,” which aims at promoting the region as a single investment hub. In his remarks, he noted that “to spearhead this initiative, I intend to convene all regional tourism ministers to collaboratively develop a comprehensive marketing strategy. Furthermore, I aim to encourage stakeholders in the tourism sector to create a circuit that covers the entire region.”
He concluded by emphasising that, “together, we are committed to reshaping the narrative of East African tourism, striving to offer unforgettable experiences that resonate deeply with our visitors and place our region at the forefront of global travel destinations.”
The EAC Deputy Secretary General in charge of Customs, Trade and Monetary Affairs, Ms. Annette Ssemuwemba, who represented the EAC Secretary General, Hon (Dr) Peter Mathuki, at the opening, said that regional tourism has been on an upward trajectory after recovering from the effects of the pandemic.
Ms. Ssemuwemba said that the annual tourist arrivals are anticipated to increase to about 14.05 million by 2025 from the 7.2 million recorded in 2019. “As we diversify our tourism markets, increasing the range of our tourism product offerings is inevitable. Whereas we are quite competitive in terms of beach and wildlife safari tourism, we are urging all EAC Partner States to diversify their tourism products,” she added.
The Annual Tourism Expo is among the key initiatives that EAC has embarked on as part of implementing the Regional Tourism Marketing Strategy 2021-2025. The 1st Expo was successfully hosted by the United Republic of Tanzania in Arusha in October 2021, while the 2nd Regional EXPO was hosted by the Republic of Burundi in Bujumbura in September 2022.
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for EAC, Arid and Semi-Arid Lands and Regional Development, Hon. Peninah Malonza, hailed EAC Partner States and highlighted that “through cooperation, we have developed uniform criteria for the classification of hotels, restaurants and other tourist facilities within the region in order to ensure increased quality standardisation,” she said.
Also present at the event, Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, the 1st Deputy Prime Minister of Uganda and Minister for EAC Affairs, stated that it was critical for the region to make use of its natural resources, such as Lake Victoria.
“Fast-tracking of the EAC Single Tourism Visa is critical to sell the region as a single tourism investment hub. I also urge the Partner States to fast-track the development of the EAC Tourism and Wildlife Protocol,” she said.
On his part, the EAC-GIZ Cluster Coordinator, Mr. Bjoern Richter, said that a joint catalogue on the offerings of the regional tourism sector was recently developed and adopted by the EAC Partner States.
“As GIZ, we look forward to working with the EAC Secretariat and EAC Partner States Tourism Boards as well as the East African Tourism Platform on making the EAC region a widely recognised global brand,” he said.
The event was also graced with the presence of high-level guests, including the South Sudan Minister of Wildlife Conservation, Hon. Rizik Zakaria Hassan, the High Commissioner for Rwanda to Kenya, H.E. Martin Ngoga and Uganda’s State Minister for Tourism, Hon. Martin Mugarra Bahinduka, among others.
Find more information on SEAMPEC II here.
Find more information on EAC-GIZ support to tourism here.
Photo: ©Dennis Maloba