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Visa-free travel seen as key to opening up African tourism

By EDITH MUTETHYA in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-11-27 10:16

Crew members prepare a hot air balloon in Maasai Mara's natural habitat, in Kenya, on Aug 9. GERALD ANDERSON/GETTY IMAGES

Scrapping visa requirements, reducing airfares and improving connectivity could unlock the incredible potential of tourism in Africa, industry insiders and experts say.

This, in addition to improving infrastructure, dealing with security issues and upgrading public-private partnerships, could help the industry become an engine of economic growth and job creation in the continent, they said.

The need for visa-free travel for Africans entering countries on the continent was the subject of debate at the East African Regional Travel Expo held in Nairobi recently.

Benin, Gambia, Rwanda and the Seychelles are the only countries in the continent allowing visa-free access for all Africans. Some other countries are working on following suit.

In East Africa, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda allow cross-border travel without passports. In southern Africa, Botswana and Namibia have a similar arrangement.

Experts say visa-free travel for all Africans across the continent would give a great fillip not only to tourism but also to the African Continental Free Trade Area.

A report published this month by the World Travel and Tourism Council, a forum for the travel and tourism industry whose headquarters are in London, said travel and tourism could add $168 billion to the continent's economy and create more than 18 million jobs over the next 10 years. The target would be realized by improving air transport infrastructure, facilitating visa issuance and strengthening tourism marketing, the report said.

Joseph Kaluli, a tour consultant with Morningstar Tours and Travel in Nairobi, said not needing visas would obviate the need for travelers to go through complicated application procedures that can sometimes take as long as three months.

Not needing visas would also cut travel costs and enable many people to travel either as a family or as a group, he said.

Ivy Wanjiku of NatureSurf Africa, a tour and travel company in Nairobi, said scrapping visa requirements would be a big plus for tour operators in the continent.

It would help improve border policies that mean Kenyan tour operators cannot take their clients directly to Tanzania, she said.

"We have to stop at the border and get a Tanzanian to come and pick up the client. Sometimes there is miscommunication and we are left stranded with the client at the border, so visa-free travel would help us to avoid such issues."

George Mwagane, a tourism officer with the Tanzania Tourist Board, said visa-free entry or making applying for visas easier would greatly boost the sector, and that many tourists complain that getting a visa is their biggest challenge.

However, caution was needed in adopting such a policy, such as having the proper security measures, ensuring that a country can monitor all visitors, he said.

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