How many times have your efforts to obtain a visa been so frustrated you end up cancelling a trip? The strenuous process of obtaining that crucial document in a bid to gain entry to another country can be exhausting. From long waits at the Embassy, filling out multiple forms and waiting for its processing costs you so much time and energy. Imagine repeating this procedure each time you choose to travel to an African country; even those next door, tedious right? No wonder, most African countries have a surge in foreign tourists as compared to domestic ones. Just a thought. However, the script seems to have changed over the past few years, as governments continue embracing the idea of ‘open visas’.
According to a recent Visa Openness Report by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), emerging economies continue to be more receptive to foreign visitors than advanced economies. East Africa remains one of the most open regions, while Central Africa and North Africa were, in 2015, the most restrictive sub-regions.
Visa restrictions contribute largely to missed economic gains from the tourism sector, which contributes approximately 9% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and one in every 11 jobs.
Therefore, it would be correct to say that open visa policies could create numerous job opportunities in the tourism and travel industries, to the millions of Africans who continue to dwell in joblessness. More tourists would result in more hotels, restaurants, recreation centers, and malls in the respective countries and thus an upsurge in economic growth.
The African Development Bank in its Africa Visa Openness Report 2016 notes that, “Free movement by people is the hallmark of regional economic integration, facilitating trade and economic growth across the continent.” And I do add that the tourism and travel industries are also major beneficiaries.
By the year 2018, African Union aims at introducing an African passport while at the same time abolishing visa requirements for all African citizens on the continent. Major efforts towards achieving this goal have been seen in various African countries. These include the launch of the East African single visa covering Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda by the East African Community (EAC) in February 2014; the “KAZA” (Kavango Zambezi) common tourist visa covering Zambia and Zimbabwe; and the single visa scheme covering tourists visiting all Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states.
In its Kenya Hospitality Report, Jovago.com, Africa’s leading online hotel booking website, noted that the travel & tourism sector is nearly the same size as that of the financial services sector. This shows that a lot of progress has been made, with 7 out of the top 10 most tourism-ready economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, featuring in the top 20 most visa-open countries in Africa; according to UNWTO. Yet, African governments need to do more in easing travel and tourism to and from neighboring countries and across the continent in a bid to encourage shared prosperity…that is the African spirit.