East African Community (EAC) Partner States have been urged to liberalise their airspaces and open up skies to promote the tourism industry in the region.
The Chairperson of the East African Tourism Platform (EATF) Fred Odek said that the existing different restrictive Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASAs) among the Partner States are disrupting the harmonisation of air transport services in the region.
Odek, who was speaking during the official opening of the 2nd EAC Tourism Expo in Bujumbura, Burundi, called upon the Partner States to finalise the EAC regulations to facilitate the liberalisation of air travel in the region.
“The Partner States should also grant rights to each other the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th freedoms in line with the Yamoussoukro Decision of which all Partner States are signatories,” he said, adding that by working together, Partner States could ease mobility to benefit travel in the region.
Odek said that airfares in the East African region remain extremely high due to the lack of open skies and heavy taxes levied by Partner States’ governments.
The EATF Chairperson hailed the East African Single Tourist Visa and use of national IDs as travel documents across the region as some of the best policies that had been formulated by the EAC.
Describing the tourism sector as one of the leading sources of foreign exchange earnings for the region, Odek disclosed that based on GDP losses by region, EAC tourism was the second most affected region globally by the pandemic after Central America.
“Nonetheless, this sector is resilient and one of the most important to get our economies back on a growth path,” he said.
“In 2022, we are experiencing a recovery as the COVID-19 pandemic has been contained in most of our key source markets and international travelers are now fully confident to travel. However, arrivals and revenues are still less than 2019 levels.”
He said that the hospitality sector had also suffered but was steadily recovering with COVID-19 health regulations having been eased and most Partner States now allowing tourists to enter without the COVID-19 test requirements.
The EATC official said that the Ukraine conflict has impacted negatively on tourist arrivals in East Africa and especially for destinations like Zanzibar where Russia and Ukraine were the key source markets.
He said that the war in Ukraine has also affected air travel costs in the region due to the increasing costs of fuel and other commodities.
Burundian Vice President Prosper Bazombanza officially opened the expo that is expected to run up to September 30 with the last three days dedicated to an excursion across the country for tour operators and exhibitors participating in the expo.
Also present at the event were Burundi’s Minister for Burundi’s Minister of Commerce, Transport, Industry and Tourism, Madam Marie Chantal Nijimbere, EAC Affairs Minister Ezechiel Nibigira, the Director of the Productive Sectors at EAC, Mr. Jean Baptiste Havugimana, and the Mayor of Bujumbura, Gen. Jimmy Hatungimana, among other dignitaries.