arusha The vast natural resources in the East African Community (EAC) bloc have not yet been fully developed for tourism.
Visitors to the recently held tourism exhibition said that the world-renowned attractions that the region is endowed with do not match the number of visitors.
Richard Gafabusa, a lawmaker in Uganda’s parliament, said concerted efforts must be made to jointly promote the bloc for tourism.
“EAC is endowed with many resources that remain largely untapped,” he said at the Magereza compound in Arusha, where the expo was held.
The annual fair was jointly organized by Moshi-based Kilifair Promotion Company Limited in conjunction with the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (Tato) and other stakeholders.
It attracted over 400 exhibitors from 12 African countries, 500 international and regional travel agents and an estimated total of 8,000 visitors over the three days.
Major tourist attractions in the EAC include the ice-capped mountains; Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya and Mt. Ruwenzori, the Serengeti/Maasai Mara ecosystem and the coastal beaches.
Before the outbreak of Covid-19, the region received about six million foreign tourists annually, but declined to about two million in 2020.
However, Mr Gafabusa bemoaned the failure of partner countries to agree collectively to market the region as a single tourist destination.
This, he said, would have allowed the region to get the maximum economic benefit from the initiative by increasing visitor numbers.
Under the initiative, the EAC would become a single tourist area with a single tourist visa issued to travelers from abroad.
Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have been using the tourist visa for about a decade, while Tanzania and Burundi have yet to join the system.
Ugandan member of the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) James Kakooza called for the promotion of regional tourism by creating synergies between tourist boards in the region.
Ugandan lawmakers stressed the importance of promoting local tourism by creating synergies between tourist boards in the region.
He said the Karibu Fair/Kilifair has improved networking between tourism stakeholders in the region to revitalize the sector recently hit by Covid.19.
Opening the expo, Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Pindi Chana said although the tourism industry has been hit hard by Covid-19, it is now recovering.
Statistics show that the number of visitors fell from around 1.5 million in 2019 to just over 620,000 in 2020; the peak of the pandemic.
Last year, the number of visitors to the tourist attractions rose to 922,992, a significant number of whom were local tourists.
Visitor forecasts for this year have not yet been released, but the government is still aiming for five million tourists in 2025.