East Africa’s capital cities of Nairobi and Kigali, and also Kampala and Tanzania’s commercial capital of Dar es Salaam will hopefully sit down with their respective tourism boards to read, evaluate, and discuss the report the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) just released on city tourism, and the potential impact this niche market can have on the economy of the city if not the country.
Popular for many decades already in Europe and North America, where mini vacations, often over weekends, see tens of thousands of visitors leave their own homes to fly to Paris, Rome, London, New York, and other major cities, this form of tourism is very nascent at this stage in Eastern Africa.
In Europe and North America, such tourists combine a one- or two-night stay with visits to art exhibitions, to see theater plays, or partake in food and other festivals, or they simply go to shop, stroll the high streets and parks, visit museums, and eat out in fancied restaurants they read up on through TripAdvisor features and from other online travel guides.
For East Africa, two cities come to mind where a range of activities await visitors and where they can read up on through even local guides and which offers the most extensive overview of what is on and where it happens should someone opt to fly to Nairobi for instance.
In addition, Nairobi offers half-day and day excursions which include a visit to the National Museum, the highly-acclaimed Arboretrum, the Nairobi National Park, and the adjoining Safari Walk and the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, while in the evening plays at the Phoenix Theater offer a culture boost and dozens of top-rated restaurants, including the Carnivore, a tourist attraction in its own right, wait to serve visitors a meal to remember.
In Kigali it is no doubt a visit to the national Genocide Memorial which is a must, or to take a day-long tour which allows an insight into the community dimension in and around the city, with visits to schools and farms included. But most notable, a weekend in Kigali allows for what this correspondent refers to as the “Crazy Gorilla Safari” whereby tourists leave the capital at around 4 in the morning to reach the Parc de Virunga headquarters in time for the morning briefing, then set out to spend half a day tracking the prized mountain gorillas or golden monkeys and then return in the late afternoon back to Kigali, in time for dinner in one of the growing number of restaurants or to have a dinner with a view before flying back home the next day after an action-packed weekend.
The onset of low-cost carriers in East Africa and, after the recent decision by the Heads of State of the Northern Corridor Cooperation to bring the cost of air travel down across the region, should in fact be able to contribute to making weekend packages more affordable and stimulate demand to visit the capital city of the neighboring country, more so when the dreaded visa fees for expatriates have been formally waived which allows them to spend their 50 dollars per person on purchases, excursions, or meals rather than wasting it as an “entrance fee” into the country with no value in return.
City tourism is certainly a niche tourism that planners and the private sector now need to look at to tap into this market segment, which involves high-spending visitors who come for just two nights and three days but expect to get an action-packed weekend where every minute counts and where no downtime is permitted in order to take in as much as the respective city and its environs offers.