East Africa

Kenya retaliates against Tanzania over tour vans

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Kenya has lost patience with Tanzania over denying their tour operators access to Tanzanian national parks using Kenyan registered tourist vans and issued a banning order of its own writes SHARON KYATUSIIMIRE.

Beginning this month Tanzanian tour vehicles have been barred from fetching or dropping off tourists at Kenyan airports until further notice.

The Tanzania Natural Resources and Tourism Minister, Lazaro Nyalandu  said last week, “The government is also shocked by the Kenya’s decision because airports are not part of the agreements involving the two sister countries.”

However he said efforts are being made to engage Nairobi over the issue.

East Africa’s two tourist destination giants have been holding fruitless talks over the re-opening of the strategic Bolongoja border post. It lies between Serengeti National Park and Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya.

The area is rich in wildlife, however Kenyan tourist vans are not allowed into Tanzania, but the Kenya government had no similar restrictions on their Tanzanian counterparts.

The Kenyans have long complained that this causes incoveniences for their clients who have to switch vans if they want to cross the Mara River and view Tanzanian game animals. Kenya tour firms have to contract their counterparts in Tanzania so that the tourists can continue with their safaris.

Tanzanian tour operators are on record that they fear being driven out of business if Kenyan-registered tour vehicles are allowed to operate in Tanzania.

The Bolongoja post has been closed since the late 1970s, during the days when the first East African Community was disintegrating.

In early 2014, the five Partner States sat under the umbrella of the East African Tourism Platform to sort out the issue and others related to bottlenecks in the regional tourism sector. They met at the EAC Secretariat in Arusha.

The Tanzania Society of Travel Agents (TASOTA), insisted that tour vehicles from neighbouring countries should continue being denied entry into Tanzania. They said their members’ livelihood depends on this restriction.

Tanzania also charges Ugandan tour operators a $100 fee as a working permit.

However for Kenyan operators to satisfy Tanzania authorities, they must be in a four-wheel drive vehicle with Tanzanian registration numbers and driven by a Tanzanian national.

Apparently Kenyan tour guides/drivers are classified as foreigners and pay same fee as tourists, to enter premium parks. This does not apply for Tanzanian tour/driver guides who are charged much less.

There is a fierce rivalry between East Africa’s biggest countries over the rich pickings from the tourism industry which in 2012 brought nearly $3 billion in total to the EAC.

The Arusha meeting was supposed to come with answers that would resolve the situation however much was left in the air. This is particularly embarrasing, because the EAC is talking about developing a single tourist destination package.

However the EAC Partner states continue to squabble about tour operators being denied entry into neighbouring countries. Among issues raised in Arusha last year were; Partner States denying entry of tourist vehicles registered in other Partner States, harassment of driver guides at the border crossing into another Partner State, disparities in fees charged, cross border cooperation in wildlife law enforcement, cooperation and support in addressing multi-lateral environment agreements.

The Arusha meeting was scheduled to discuss these challenges and also deliberate on how to effectively involve other sectors to improve and enhance cooperation in Tourism and Wildlife Management sectors in line with Articles 115 and 116 of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community.

The latest move by Kenya is a clear sign that things have come to ahead and another set of talks is urgently needed to thrash out the issue once and for all .

By Sharon Kyatusiimire

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