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East Africa lends voice to sustainable tourism at EARTE

…region unveils destination brand, targets 7.2 million tourists by 2024

For almost a week, top destinations and facilities across Kenya felt the presence of global tourism stakeholders, who besieged the country for the East Africa Regional Tourism Expo (EARTE).

Previously hosted by Tanzania and Burundi, EARTE is an annual regional travel fair showcasing the region’s diverse tourism offerings to consumers, trade and hosted bythe East African Community (EAC) partner states on a rotational basis.

This year, which is the third edition, is spectacular in the sense that it was the first time Kenya hosted the expo and it was also combined with the Magical Kenya Tourism Expo (MKTE), which is in its 13th edition this year.

It is of note that for 13 years, Kenya has leveraged the annual flagship travel trade fair to bring together tourism stakeholders, partners and media from some of its key source markets in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

As expected, the combined travel fairs, hosted under the theme ‘Tourism for Green Growth”, pushed frontiers for the region’s tourism, amid good participation from across the seven EAC partner states, other Africans and impressive global representatives from hosted travel buyers, sellers, travel companies and government.

Of course, Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), Nairobi, the venue of the three-day travel expo, was awash with visitors as the joint expo drew 266 exhibitors and 109 buyers from at least 31 countries across EAC key source markets of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

Read also: Botswana pushes tourism boundaries beyond Africa

It also witnessed over 500 meetings, over 1000 deals sealed by buyers and sellers, and over 50 speakers, presentations and workshops.

One of the highlights of the expo was the adoption and unveiling of the newly developed EAC Tourism Destination Brand: “Visit East Africa – Feel the Vibe” by the seven partner states of the EAC.

The brand is aimed at presenting to the world an East Africa that is diverse, unique, beautiful and culturally rich.

It would be recalled that in his speech at the official opening of the 3rd EARTE and 13th MKTE on November 20, 2023, at KICC, Nairobi, Alfred Mutua, Cabinet Secretary, Tourism and Wildlife Kenya, called on the EAC partner states to work together in marketing the region as a single tourism destination in order to attract more businesses from the sector.

According to Mutua, the EAC region should adopt an integrated tourism marketing strategy in order to enhance competitiveness, attract more tourists and increase earnings.

“When you look at the population of Kenya, for instance, we have an average of about 53 million and in 2022, we hosted 1.48 million tourists. In Tanzania as well, the country boasts a population of 64 million and received around 1.4 million visitors in a similar period. We should work towards improving these numbers to ensure that our citizens fully benefit from the tourism sector. As a region, we need to invest additional resources towards regional tourism promotion”.

He disclosed that his ministry will be coordinating the EAC states in charting ways to collaborate with each other to harness strengths and develop circuits that would ease travel and promote interactions across the diverse cultures that define East Africa.

Expressing his views on the importance of the EARTE, the Cabinet Secretary said,“The EARTE expo is a platform to drive conversations on how best we can work together as a joint marketing unit to realize our tourism growth goals within the region. Our neighbours: Tanzania, and Burundi have previously hosted the EARTE Expo, and now it is Kenya’s turn to showcase its potential as a tourism and investment destination”.

Mutua also said that the issue of comfort is critical to ensure improvement of tourism numbers as today’s travellers require comfort, from how they travel to where they stay, the treatment they receive and convenience. “I have directed that all tourism areas including parks and reserves should have social amenities such as toilets in all over to ensure that we do not inconvenience travellers. I have also directed that hotels and lodges should have critical medical equipment such as defibrillators to give satisfaction to visitors,” he stated.

Read also: AfCFTA endorses Africa tourism private sector alliance

On her part, Annette Mutaawe Ssemuwemba, deputy secretary general, Customs, Trade and Monetary Affairs, East African Community, said the region has what it takes to be a premier tourist destination. To achieve that feat, Ssemuwemba noted that the region needs to leverage its attractions and work together through various initiatives, such as joint tourism promotion.

“The EARTE annual tourism expo is among the key initiatives that we have embarked on as part of implementing the Regional Tourism Marketing Strategy 2021- 2025 aimed at increasing visitor arrivals to pre-pandemic levels of 7.2 million by the end of 2024,” explained Ssemuwemba, who represented Peter Mathuki, secretary general, East African Community, at the joint expo in Nairobi.

In line with the EAC secretary general’s requests, John Ololtua, Tourism PS, Kenya, said that Kenya would continue working with regional partners towards product diversification, which is key in positioning East Africa as a leading tourism destination globally.

On his part, John Chirchir, acting CEO, Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), expressed his delight at the launch of the 3rd edition of EARTE and 13th edition of MKTE, which, according to him, was a big manifestation of Kenya’s growth and speaks volumes about the country’s Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) potential.

“This expo is not only timely but also important in catalysing our efforts towards improving visitor arrivals, which are almost getting to pre-COVID numbers, “the KTB acting CEO said.

Some of the buyers, sellers and visitors were also impressed with the huge impacts of the combined expo this year.

Andres Mihigo, a travel buyer from Rwanda and CEO, Valleys and Hills, a destination marketing company, noted that the combined travel fair has created more value for the participants who had more exhibitors, suppliers and government agencies to interact with.

“I must confess, I achieved my aims of participating in this expo,” he said.

For Margaret Ndege, a Kenyan travel buyer, the level of engagement at the show was superb as all the participants had opportunities to interact beyond the EAC and initiate new deals.

Ikechi Uko, CEO, Akwaaba African Travel Market, the biggest travel fair in West Africa, was impressed with the organisation and participation at the fair.

Uko, an advocate of intra-Africa travel, insisted that the travel buyers and sellers at the expo should collaborate more to ensure more Africans travel and exchange more within the continent in order to grow the travel sector for the good of all.

As part of the activities of the EARTE and MKTE combined expo 2023, hosted buyers and media were thrilled during the familiarization trips of different tourism offerings across the regions of Kenya including; Watamu/Malindi, Amboseli National Park, among others.

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