NAIROBI, Kenya â East Africa does not rank favourably as a competitive tourist destination, according to a new report by the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) which is urging regional governments to review the regulatory frameworks in the sector.
The report was prepared by NESC in conjunction with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Sub Regional Office-East Africa (UNECA SRO-EA).
The report states that governments must stimulate private investment through the creation of specific tourism related fiscal, financial and other incentives.
Speaking at the launch of the report titled 'A Study on the Challenges and Opportunities for Tourism Development', Assistant Minister of Planning Peter Kenneth acknowledged that Kenya is lagging behind the rest of the region in terms of total GDP growth.
"The UNECA report finds that our region grew at an average of 6.6 percent in 2011 and this is focused to grow at 6.8 percent in 2012," he said.
"This means that even if we project ours (Kenya) to grow at 5.5 percent for 2012, we are still far below the average of the region," he added.
Kenya is ranked 97th globally within the 2009 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness World Economic Forum. Although it's ranked high as far as human, cultural and natural resources, its business environment and infrastructure are ranked poorly.
Kenneth said that the country must expand its global digital economy since the role of Information and Communications Technology has increased in importance due to the emergence of the online environment for the distribution and promotion of travel and tourism products.
Despite the challenges facing the country, the report says that Kenya will be the first country in the region to reach middle income status by 2030.
"According to UNECA calculations, approximately half the countries in the region will have reached middle income status by the year 2030 and we are scheduled to be the first country to achieve that status," he revealed.
"I must hasten here because we have anchored our vision at a growth rate of 10 percent so efforts should be made to ensure that we're on track in terms of the growth rate," he emphasised.
The study identified that a unified approach to tourism development under the umbrella of regional integration is an urgent requirement in terms of the potential benefits that could accrue in the region if it is sold as a single destination.
In order to achieve this goal, the study states that the countries in the region must come together to develop an Eastern Africa Tourism Master Plan, whose success will largely depend on the goodwill of the member countries.
The Easter Africa Tourism Master Plan would map out the developmental agenda for the region as well as charting out a vision for the tourism sector that which would entail a consultative stakeholder approach that clearly identifies key issues and priorities for tourism development in East Africa.
The report recommends that countries in the region consider issuing international visitors a single visa to enable the free movement of tourists within the region, which could prove beneficial to new destinations in East Africa by leveraging the markets of the more popular destinations.
Kenneth acknowledged the disparity in natural resources between West and East Africa, but pointed to the discovery of oil in Kenya and Uganda, Tanzania's offshore gas field and Burundi's discovery of world class nickel deposits as a sign that the East Africa will soon be a resource rich region that will attract investors from around the world.
He warned however, that the countries in the region must be smart about how they manage their resources if they want to successfully reach their goals of becoming middle class economies.
"The degree to which we manage our new found resources successfully will be one of the major determinants of economic fortunes over the coming decades," he declared.
"We need to maximise the degree to which resource avenues are converted into long term investments in both fiscal and human capital in major investment projects such as the northern corridor, renewable energies and building up the knowledge base of our economies so we can increase our international competitiveness in the future," he added.