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Open visa policy spurs tourism – report

Rwanda’s visa policy encouraged foreigners to consider the country as an ideal destination in addition to the uniqueness of available products in the country.

Faustin Karasira, the acting head of tourism at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), said this while reacting to the Visa Openness Report 2015 that lists Rwanda among the destinations which improved visa procedures for 30 or more countries of origin (2015 over 2010), thereby facilitating easier movement of tourists in the past seven years.

Of the regional countries as per the annual United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) publication, out of 54 countries worldwide, Rwanda, with its 178 index improvement, is ranked number 12, Uganda at 18, Kenya at 23, followed by Tanzania.

The report, released last week, says globally, notable progress has been made in the area of visa facilitation in recent years.

While at the beginning of 2008, destinations requested an average of 77 per cent of the world’s population to apply for a traditional visa prior to departure, this percentage decreased to 61 per cent in 2015.

In total, the report says, improvements of visa requirements were made in 7,421 destination-source market country pairs between 2010 and 2015.

Speaking to The New Times on Wednesday, Karasira explained that with Rwanda’s e-Visa, visa upon arrival from source markets, and openness for Africans the impact has been very huge.

“Today, Rwanda is always ranked among the top destinations; this couldn’t have been achieved without a competitive visa regime,” he said.

Ange Sebutege, the communications officer at the Directorate of Immigration and Emigration, said Rwanda’s commitment to reducing travel restrictions is manifested by developments such as the country’s recent waiver of visa fees for nationals from countries participating in the ongoing 2016 African Nations Championship (CHAN).

“Another recent one is the new visa regime as well as allowing all African nationals to get visa upon arrival.

Without forgetting facilitation of online visa. Work permits are also issued free of charge to all EAC citizens,” he said.

In 2006, Rwanda received 499,000 visitors, and the number shot to 669,000 in 2008; 1,061,000 in 2012, and 1.2 million in 2014.

The visa openness report analyses visa policies and the progress made in visa facilitation over the past seven years, supporting destinations with evidence-based policy making and helping to prioritise activities within their facilitation policies.

Data has been collected on an annual basis since 2008 and is validated through surveys and communication with member states.

Data for 2015 was collected between January and May 2015. The process included a full review of official destination websites between January and April 2015, the verification of information against secondary public resources, and a detailed formal consultation process on the findings with all national (tourism) authorities in May of 2015.

International tourism diversifying

Meanwhile, on the dimensions of international tourism, the UNWTO report indicates that over the past six decades, tourism has continued to expand and diversify; it is now one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world.

The report reads: “Many new tourist destinations have emerged alongside the traditional ones of Europe and North America. From 1980 to 2014, international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) grew four-fold from 279 million in 1980 to 1,132 million in 2014, corresponding to an average growth of 4.2 per cent a year.”

“In the same period, the export value of tourism – that is, international tourism receipts, including international passenger transport – increased from $125 billion in 1980 to $1.5 trillion in 2014, representing the same annual average growth as that of international tourist arrivals. According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) long-term forecast Tourism Towards 2030, international tourist arrivals are expected to continue to grow at the sustained pace of 3.3 per cent a year on average, reaching 1.8 billion by 2030.”

In 2015, it is noted, destinations around the world still require, on average, approximately two-thirds of the world’s population to obtain a traditional visa prior to departure.

Some 18 per cent of the world’s population is able to enter a destination without a visa, while another 15 per cent can receive a visa on arrival and 6 per cent is able to obtain e-Visa.

Overall, emerging economies continue to be more open than advanced ones.