The single tourist visa initiative was to bring East Africa together and should have been a winner for all nations in regards to travel and tourism. Tanzania decided to have no part of it.
Speaking off the record, several of those spoken to expressed their misgivings that Tanzania was not joining into the single tourist visa arrangements now in place between Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya, claiming it would eventually work out against them in terms of demand for cross-border tours.
“Tour operators and travel agents are shrewd people. They look for deals, they always look for deals, and the single visa is a good deal. For one, it saves the hassle of filling out several visa forms when traveling from Kenya to Uganda and the Rwanda. Second, it saves a bit of money when you compare to buying each visa separately. I am not saying that because of that the existing demand for travel to our main parks like Serengeti and Ngorongoro will reduce. But what I am saying is that incremental demand could be lower as those looking for smooth packages across borders may opt not to include us.
“I have seen that the Ebola scare did have an impact on forward demand, and we just have to make sure we use every available tool to market ourselves, not just as the land of Serengeti and Zanzibar but also as a regional destination,” said one more regular contributor before shrugging, “…but, of course, our present-day government will not join into that arrangement; maybe the next one after the elections next year [which when said, was correct but when writing this article, the Tanzanian elections are, of course, taking place this year 2015].
Three of them, keener than others to break the ice, then raised the question in the discussion as to how best to tap into the regional market, citing lack of and high cost of flights between the 5 East African Community (EAC) member countries.
‘We are sort of stuck here with few choices. Kenya Airways flies four times a day from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi and from there into the other capitals. But here, it is the cost which is a factor. They are not good with package deals for tourists mainly because they fly with high loads and are sitting firm on top of the food chain. Fastjet does not fly to Kenya and in fact only to Uganda, but not daily. Before we had two flights a day between Dar and Entebbe, and we should at least have daily flights. And for Kigali, at least we have daily flights, and RwandAir seems more flexible with their fares, so maybe that gives an opening? After all, they got the gorillas, and we don’t have those in our country. It allows for a good package deal.”
Ideas were tossed about in the meeting before, perhaps as a result of the broad regional experience; the safari operators present did accept that an ideal package out of Dar es Salaam, offered to tourists while already in the country with no concrete plans, or to those making inquiries well in advance of their travel, could easily combine several key attractions.
“Next you have the Selous, where I have just been. In fact, you can connect your tourists when they come from or go to Zanzibar using the same small airline like Flightlink for instance. They might give a cheaper ticket deal when travel involves four sectors rather than just two. Using the same hotel groups might also get you better rates for accommodation. Serena for instance got properties in Dar, Zanzibar, the Selous, but also in Kigali and near the gorilla park.
“Using one chain of hotels again improves your chances to get larger rebates when booking with them, either directly or through overriding commissions when you reach revenue targets. So all you now need to do is find a counterpart in Rwanda to talk to and package accordingly. After arrival in Dar, they spend the night before moving to Zanzibar for a night or two, the Selous for a few nights, and then fly with RwandAir to Kigali for their gorilla experience.
“You have options there as far as hotels are concerned, some of the smaller ones have even a lodge near the Virunga Park. Or you use Serena with a hotel in Kigali and their resort at Lake Kivu which is just an hour’s drive from the gorilla park. Include added value in your package to make it more attractive, like a boat ride on the lake or a visit to the caves in Musanze or to the site where the former Kings were prepared for kingship,” all suggestions which were instantly seen as potential game changers and a winning formula to get into the regional tourism market.