The good news to the Uganda safaris sector is that the East African Community (EAC) secretariat has singled out the roll out of a single tourist visa and common passport as the top priority projects this year, as the bloc battles to reverse a credibility crisis over failed targets.
The EAC Secretary General Richard Sezibera said the EAC passport, the single tourist visa and liberalisation of the airspace will boost free movement of people across the region, a feat that the bloc has fallen behind in achieving to boost the business as well as the general east African tourism sector, three years after signing the Common Market Protocol.
READ: Traveling in the EAC? Just grab your passport, pass or ID
Frustration is growing among business executives from member countries over delays in pushing through key projects like opening up the region’s airspace, rolling out a single passport and visa and elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs), saying this was slowing trade and business envisaged by the protocol with tourism business one of the most affected.
The EAC, which is facing pressure over the full implementation of the protocol, last month for example postponed a number of key issues including the implementation of a monetary union and the admission of South Sudan and Somalia into the bloc.
The implementation of the monetary union was pushed back by another year to November 2013 after members failed to agree on 14 of the 77 articles needed for its creation.This obviously delays quick growth of the Uganda tourism sector.
Observers said the EAC technocrats will be judged by how they handle the integration process in 2013 after the delays experienced last year.
While the five EAC partner states had in principle agreed to remove NTBs by December 2012, in the absence of a legally binding framework, little action was taken.
The latest report from the EAC Secretariat shows while 35 NTBs were reported as unresolved, 10 new NTBs emerged in 2012 alone.
Only 36 NTBs were reported as resolved. It is understood the EAC Secretariat is keen on pushing immigration officials in the five countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi) to fast-track the review of the new design of the passport and if done great benefits will go to Uganda safari sector. A source at the Secretariat said the bloc has set a deadline of between March and June 2013 for the commencement of printing the new passport.
On the single tourist visa, the EAC principal tourism officer, Shedrack Mashauri said delays were being caused by a lack of consensus over visa fee collection and sharing model among the EAC partner states.
This is because, according to the plan, a tourist on a Uganda safari for example would apply and pay for a visa in any of the five states and this visa would be applicable for travel to all the countries in the region, thus necessitating the need for a proper revenue-sharing formula.
“We are also ought to accomplish harmonisation of immigration management systems and put some sophisticated ICT equipment that connects the relevant authorities in the five countries mainly for security reasons” Mr Mashauri said.
It is anticipated that issuance of a single EAC visa and passport would not only ease movement across the region, but significantly boost regional drive to promote the bloc as a single tourism destination a great boost to the Uganda safari business section .
“Tourists are constrained by time so the EAC to increase its global tourism market share must trim down the paperwork to the minimum possible and here comes the importance of a single visa” said Sirili Akko, Tanzania Association of Tour Operators executive officer.
The EAC is also planning to streamline the civil aviation authorities’ operations in the region as a way of liberalising the airspace a move warmly welcome by all Uganda safaris dealers as well as those in the general east African safari.
The EAC partner states would adopt common policies to harmonise civil aviation rules and regulations.
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