Visa barrier removal to boost intra-Africa travel
Early this year, President William Ruto hinted at scrapping visa restrictions for African travellers within the continent.
In his speech during the opening of the Private Sector Dialogue on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the President stated that Africa must work towards integrating more, eliminating barriers to international trade and pushing for the establishment of a more secure, reliable and efficient cross-border payments system that will deepen financial inclusion and foster growth in the continent.
“This is home. We support wholeheartedly the AfCFTA and we must remove any impediments to the movement of people around our continent. Africa presents an attractive and expansive market for investors seeking new business opportunities,” President Ruto said.
In his commitment to ensure that this happens, the president has ensured that more countries allow Kenyans to travel without visa restrictions. Apart from South Africa, Eritrea, Senegal, Comoros and Djibouti, are now on the list.
Consequently, according to the latest Henley Passport Index Report, the Kenyan passport has improved six places in the global mobility rank to position 67 from 73 and now occupies the seventh position as one of Africa’s most powerful passports.
Destination of choice
When it comes to tourism, there has been an impact to business operators who offer packages in regional travels. For instance, following the removal of the visa restrictions to South Africa, it is said that close to 10,000 Kenyans visited South Africa in the first quarter of the year.
Data released by South Africa Tourism indicate that 9,628 Kenyans flew to South Africa between January and March compared to 3,848 Kenyans during the same period last year, representing a 150 per cent increase.
“The removal of the South African visa has made it easier for my clients to choose South Africa as a destination of choice for holidays since it’s about hopping on a flight and going,” notes Andrew Kitema co-founder of Africa adventure specialist.
“Before, most clients found applying for a visa to be a hectic undertaking and would choose another destination,” he adds.
For countries such as Eswatini, which is visa-free for Kenyans, the removal of the restrictions meant more Kenyans could also explore the country.
“It was suffocating us, because it was difficult for Kenyans to even have transit visa to come to our country, but now they can fly in easily. We are now working on West Africa and even there, we have 10 countries, which either get Visa on arrival or they are exempt. Our aim is to ensure that all countries in Africa are visa exempted, because it’s a costly exercise and we lose by our people not travelling within the continent,” said Eswatini Minister for Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Moses Vilangati at the South Africa’s Travel Indaba.
As one of their goals, Eswatini hopes to double the number of tourists coming to their country and regional tourism is one of their plans. For instance, in 2020, they signed a memorandum of understanding with Tanzania to cooperate on matters tourism.
They have also signed another one with South Africa and Mozambique to have a joint circuit where tourists can travel in the three countries. They also have a new airline, which now flies directly to Zimbabwe, Capetown and Durban and they desire to work out a deal with Kenya to have their airline fly directly to Nairobi.
“The Swazis love to travel outside the region and use Kenya Airways to go to Dubai and other places. I think Kenya is sitting on a goldmine because the people of Eswatini spend a lot of money going to other regions. What stops people from traveling is usually the connectivity and the Visa restrictions. Why should an African need a visa yet we allow Europeans to fly into our country without it? It just doesn’t make sense. So let’s look at intra African travel and see ways in which we can exploit it and benefit Africa,” he continues.
Simple entry pass
He further adds that there should be a talk on currency convergence to make trade and travel easier within the countries.
“When you come to Southern Africa, each country has its own currency and that means you have to convert it when you get to the country. It’s time we get rid of this and use one common currency. Similarly when you look at passports, we should use a simple pass not a passport. In West Africa, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has ensured that the countries now use a simple card to travel from one country to another and that’s what we need,” he continues.
In Botswana, their tourism strategy has changed to not just look at the international travel, but also the regional travel too. For instance, to facilitate travel from Namibia, Botswana has signed an agreement where the two countries now only use a personal identification document to cross over. While their main market in Africa is South Africa, they are looking to expand and have more East Africans tour their country.
“Our recovery is not just dependent on international travel, but from within, hence our conversation is how we can make Africans travel within their continent. We are looking into collaborating in terms of having our marketing strategies together. We want to expand to East Africa to make sure that we connect the destinations so that we package our destinations as one,” says Keitumetse Setlang, Executive Manager marketing Botswana Tourism Organisation.
Noticing that most of their tourists are Africans, Malawi is also ensuring that they have a seamless visa process, so that they can explore the country.
“We have made access to our country seamless whether it’s online or removing the visa fees. So far, we have removed visa fees from key source markets, so that people can move freely, such as in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania. The issue is how do we strike a balance between African regions who are giving us markets and then the other regions too who spend more when they come,” says Vera Kamtukule,
Already there is a direct flight to Malawi and the minister seeks to work more in ensuring that the East Africa region tours more in the country.
“It’s about how to work out a joint destination marketing strategy together with Kenyans. We need to look beyond the borderlines that are separating us as we are one people. I admire how the East African region works and I think we can learn a thing or two from them,” she adds.
When it comes to Mozambique, they have recently approved 29 countries in Africa for visa exemptions. However, Kenya was not on the list, they are in a process that will include other countries that are open to reciprocity agreements. Since the introduction of the E-Visa, they have seen improvements when it comes to their tourism arrivals from Africa.
“The process has been positive for us as tourists are secure since they are assured that everything is okay before they travel. It is also good in countries where we don’t have an embassy or it’s too far away and travellers can always have access,” explains Eldevina Materula, Minister of Culture and Tourism in Mozambique.
While Kenyans can access the country via E-Visa and there is a direct flight to its capital, Maputo, the minister believes that there is need for more flights connecting the countries.
“Connectivity is one of our biggest issues in Africa and we still need more, especially in intra Africa. In our ministerial dialogue, we have agreed that every minister should fight and focus on reinforcing connectivity in our countries and between Africa. That will ensure that African tourists travel and know their own continent,” she continues.
Digital infrastructure hitch
One of the key issues affecting the continent is the lack of implementation of policies discussed.
“While there is competition within countries in Africa, we need to look at how can we collaborate to promote grand Africa as a continent. We need to improve on the inter trade amongst us. While the African free trade agreement was signed two years ago and it’s about goods and services moving, but people are also moving. What must we do as ministers of tourism to capitalise on this? How can we encourage our people to tour their continent?” poses Patricia de Lille the minister for tourism in South Africa.
To make travel easier to South Africa, the country has set up an e-visa system where travellers can get visa on arrival at the airport. Apart from Kenya, the country is still in talks with a number of countries in Africa on visa exemptions.
However, the Patricia cites that the lack of digital infrastructure across the continent is a huge challenge.
“Because of the overall lack of digital infrastructure in the continent, the system is failing.
We need to make more investments and streamline the e-visa system and have a uniform one to connect all countries to the same e-visa system and not every country having a different one. We have just added another 20 countries into the e-visa system,” she continues.
While she lauds the removal of visa restrictions in Kenya and has noted the improvements in terms of arrivals and flight connectivity, she is working on convincing more South Africans to travel to Kenya.
“I’ve seen the improvement in Kenyans travelling, but we should not just aim flights to South Africa. What Kenyans are complaining about is that we are bringing people to the country, but we are leaving with an empty plane. We need to convince our people too to travel to Kenya and other African countries to balance this,” she says in conclusion.