Tourism for All; A conscious reminder to push for East African Integration
(By; Julius P. Kessy)
There is no greater time than this year’s World Tourism Day, WTD for us to integrate and work together towards the development of our beloved East African region. The theme “Tourism for All – Promoting Universal Accessibility” itself reflects. It is the fateful moment to foster awareness among locals and the international community on the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value. As I invite everyone to celebrate this glorious day with us, it is indeed a challenge for the region and even the world at large to recognize the necessity of accessibility in the world of tourism to accommodate everyone everywhere. I agree that travelling is now a huge part of many lives but we must remember that for many too who live with some form of disability travelling is quite a difficult process. This is the world deprived of the priviledge of knowing other cultures, experience the incredible diversity that planet earth offers or even the thrill of embarking on a journey to explore new sights. I feel this as the humble time for us to turn our attention from not only seeing tourism as a market opportunity but also as a right for every person. Not so long ago, South Sudan’s admission brought to six, the number of East African Community member states. With a population of 162 million people, the region is undoubtedly one of world’s top tourism destinations and the leading tourist destination in Sub-sahara Africa, with some of continent’s most famous national parks, the vegetation ranging from equtorial, bamboo and mangrove forests to savanna grasslands and the semi-deserts, the lake Victoria shared by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, the coastal towns rich in culture and the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro rising above, thus possessing a more receptive environment for foreign visitors and a comparative advantage for domestic tourism. But despite the revolution that tourism industry has experienced over the past fifty plus years and its key role in poverty alleviation, in many developing countries where basic needs have not yet been guaranteed, the right to tourism appears to be something very distant. More or less the same in well-developed nations, significant portions of populace still do not have easy access to tourism. This is either due to their special needs such as children or the elderly, their permanent or temporary limitations be it physical or mental and one’s cultural profile. Once these are checked, the term “accessible tourism” would bear its actual meaning. Without ignoring the positive influence that tourism can have on different aspects of life, to name just a few; as an opportunity for mutual understanding between people and culture, a promoter of peace and dialogue and one of potential drivers of economic development, all these are crucial enhancers of regional integration and in taking such integration forward tourism needs to be sustainable i.e. committed to providing a quality of tourism that is respectful of the cultural and environmental diversity taking into consideration both present and future repercussions. The efforts are already made in favour of a “tourism for all”, initiatives like the common passport, 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 invigorate East African tourism. To make the sector tour-receptive with positive public image, transport within countries, quality of accommodation, sales areas like restaurants, hotels, catering firms and resorts need to be compliant to the required international standards and provide up to date services that meet and exceed tourists’ expectations. If we are too keen to be a part of the promotion of tourism for all and the development of universal accessibility then we should treat tourism industry like that. In so doing, tourists from across the world will keep flowing to the amazing land of East Africa and our message must be, “All are welcome”.