Opinion & Analysis

Regional integration holds great potential for tourism growth

Tourists arrive at the Moi International Airport in Mombasa in 2014. file photo | nmg
Tourists arrive at the Moi International Airport in Mombasa in 2014. file photo | nmg 

Regional integration and co-operation between sovereign states has a long history especially in Africa.

According to the World Bank, the first generation regional integration schemes were partly motivated by the political vision of African unity, but also as a means for providing sufficient scale to import substitution industrialisation policies.

One of the most compelling arguments for regional integration in Africa is usually made on the basis of the fragmentation of sub-Saharan Africa, which has 47 small economies, with an average Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $4 billion (Sh400 billion), and a combined GDP equal to that of Belgium or 50 per cent of the GDP of Spain.

The implication is that with the per capita growth rate being between zero and two per cent per annum, there is limited progress in poverty reduction and the achievement of many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seems to be elusive.

Regional tourism is driving the world over. For example, it is estimated that four out of five international arrivals are visitors travelling within their region (UNWTO Tourism Barometer 2014).

Leading destinations in Europe, USA and southern Africa have domestic and regional tourists accounting for between 60 and 70 per cent, which therefore acts as the foundation for their industry thereby cushioning them from international shocks whenever these occur, as they are bound to.

In Kenya, arrivals from Africa by air in 2015 were estimated at 26 per cent of the total arrivals. However for the year 2014, when cross border numbers are included, Africa’s arrivals into Kenya are estimated to be over 45 per cent.

Africa is gradually emerging not only as a tourism destination but also as a tourist source market as evident in the global tourism statistics.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), it is estimated that the number of Africa outbound market will reach 62 million by the year 2030. This clearly shows that the potential for growth in tourism from Africa is phenomenal.

Despite all these impressive statistics, some countries still shun integration and even go to the extent of applying protectionist policies. On the other hand, there are those who value it.

To this end, regional integration has in various parts of the world and Africa in particular led to formation of regional blocks, cross - cutting each other like a spaghetti bowl, where various countries are members of several regional blocs.

Regional integration has contributed to economic growth, promoted intra-regional trade, enhanced infrastructural connections.

For example, the LAPSSET Corridor, which is seen as eastern Africa’s large and most ambitious infrastructural project is expected to open up a big chunk of Kenya for growth and development even as it brings together trade benefits to Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan.

Whereupon several initiatives have been achieved including single visa for inbound tourism into the three East African countries and use of national identity cards as a travel document besides the passport for the residents of the three countries, there is a lot more that can be done to scale up trade.

If we are to increase intra-Africa tourism and trade, we must embrace and actively support and promote regional integration.