Tanzania appears to have been isolated further in efforts to market East Africa a single tourism destination, after Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda launched a portal to jointly market their tourism products online.
At the same time, Kenya is looking to Uganda to boost intra-regional travel for pleasure, building on statistics that an expanding middle class is becoming more amenable to travel.
"The fact that Tanzania has made it clear that regional tourism is not a priority for them is affecting efforts to sell East Africa as a whole. If we are to compete with other regions and destinations, we need unity of purpose," said Carmen Nibigira, the co-ordinator of the East Africa Tourism Platform.
She added that the region must break down the barriers to the growth of the tourism sector in order to compete in the continental and global arena.
The portal will be a shared platform for tourist trade operators to place their multi-country packages targeting regional and international tourists. It follows the launch of the East African multi-entry Single Tourists Visa, which has largely failed to take off as member states have failed to streamline their national visa policies. Since its launch in February 2014, the visa has attracted only 4,000 tourists.
"With the year 2017 being the year of sustainable tourism, it is important for East Africa to implement sustainable tourism practices to ensure that countries remain choice destinations in Africa," said Kenya Tourism Board CEO, Betty Radier at the launch of the portal.
An analysis of tourist arrivals shows that despite countries on the Northern Transport Corridor isolating Tanzania, their efforts to attract more tourists have not translated into significant success, with preferences still being driven by individual country attractions.
The number of visitors to Kenya was 1.8 million in 2011, and dropped to 1.2 million in 2015, according to the Kenya National Bureau of statistics. In Tanzania, the Tourism Sector Survey puts the figures at 1.1 million visitors in 2015, up from 867,994 tourists in 2011.
Total tourist arrivals to Uganda have grown from 1.15 million in 2011 to 1.7 million in 2015 according to Uganda Tourism Board.
In Rwanda tourists numbers rose from 900,000 visitors in 2011 to 1.3 million in 2015, according to the Rwanda Development Board.
"As a region we need to understand competition is stiff and that is why at the policy level we need political goodwill to sell the destination together," said Mr Nibigira.
Despite being home to some of the most breathtaking tourist attractions like the annual wildebeest migration, East Africa is facing stiff competition not only from other African regions but also from the Middle East, the Caribbean and South America.
While East Africa as a whole is struggling to surpass the five million mark in terms of international tourists arrivals, individual countries in Southern and Northern Africa are attracting large numbers.
Morocco, which is currently the leading destination in Africa, attracted over 10.2 million international tourists in 2014, followed by Egypt at 9.6 million and South Africa at 9.5 million.
According to a report by the Africa Development Bank, Africa welcomed a total of 65.3 million tourist arrivals in 2014, representing 5.8 per cent of the total international arrivals. The continent attracted $43.6 billion in revenue from the tourism sector, accounting for only 3.5 per cent of the global market share.
Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo
Meanwhile, figures provided by the Kenya Tourism Board indicate that formal arrivals from Uganda to Kenya rose from 29,038 in 2015 to 51,023 last year. The figure is exclusive of ground travel and cross-border movements of local communities.
Dr Radier told the recently concluded Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo in Kampala that a consumer campaign in Uganda from March to June last year was a major boost to intra-regional travel generating 15 million.
Assistant regional manager for KTB, Fiona Ngesa said Ugandans travel to Kenya for holiday followed by business and conferences, mainly in Nairobi. Ms Ngesa also listed medical tourism as another sector that is growing, with Uganda making up 28 per cent of total medical tourists travelling to Kenya.
Trends show that Ugandans visiting Kenya has been gradually growing in the past decade except for the period between 2013 and 2015 when the sector in Kenya and the region suffered terror attacks.