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Participants from East Africa in the just ended Magical Kenya Travel Expo, namely delegations from Uganda, Rwanda and representatives from South Sudan, were invited by the East African Tourism Platform, the regional tourism trade apex body, to a meeting at the Sarova Stanley Hotel on Friday morning to get a firsthand update on the state of affairs of the regional cooperation, often dubbed ‘The Coalition of the Willing’.

It was the CEO of the Kenya Tourism Board Muriithi Ndegwa, who kicked off the proceedings

Let me take this opportunity to welcome you all to this forum and particularly for accepting our invite to join us at the 4th edition of the Magical Kenya Travel Expo.

As KTB, we are honoured by your presence here, a true gesture of your support and commitment to indeed market the regions as a one stop shop for tourists to Africa. Together, we have had a week of showcasing the variety of tourism products that give our region an outstanding position in Africa.

In the last Joint Tourism Marketing Committee meeting, held in Kampala, it was agreed the first stakeholders’ forum would be held in Nairobi. This is now actualized today and indeed we look forward to fruitful deliberations. As KTB, we are keen to play our role as equal partners in order to propel the gains from tourism, which many world economies are relying on to not only grow their economies but to uplift the livelihoods of many individuals and communities.

This forum is aimed at creating a better understanding on how the region can benefit from increased travel of local and international visitors across the countries. Of the 56 Million tourists reported by UNWTO into Africa as at the end of 2013, we together need to strategize how we can increase our share into the regions.

The signing of the tripartite agreement between Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda was a major milestone for tourism in East Africa. As a region we are looking to benefit from an increase in tourist arrivals as we put together resources and package the East African tourism product.

We have an extensive agenda to go through this morning towards strengthening the East African tourism product. Other than bringing together the tourism stakeholder in the region it is an opportunity to highlight the opportunity presented by regional integration for each represented country and for the region as a whole.

The sentiments expressed were echoed by Uganda’s Steven Asiimwe, CEO of the Uganda Tourism Board before two leading private sector stakeholder representatives took to the floor. Chris Diaz, Director of Marketing for Kenya Airways and Rosemary Mugambi, Director of Sales and Marketing for Serena Hotels, both acknowledged the opportunities an ‘open East Africa’ was presenting for the private sector and that increased cooperation and joint platforms were the way forward, not further fragmentation and ‘going it alone’.

Sentiments expressed from the floor vis a vis regional fares and pricing of hotel accommodation for citizens and residents of the participating countries were noted and will be discussed at corporate senior management level before returning to the East African Tourism Platform with, where found necessary, fresh positions and responses to market concerns.

Stakeholder present were particularly pleased to hear from Kenya Airways that the new Terminal 1A at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was now the exclusive home for KQ and the SkyTeam partners, providing the sort of transit and departure experience many have been waiting for and making Kenya Airways the airline of choice in the region.

Ugandan participants at the show reported doing brisk business as did the Rwandan delegation and a representative from the Zimbabwean stand, Marketing Manager Belinda Mutinhiri, was also satisfied with the market response her country had, not just from regional participants but also from the hosted buyers who showed interest to learn more about what Zimbabwe had to offer.

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