New entry rules hurting Kenya's tourism – travel agents

Kenya Association of Travel Agents wants the electronic Travel Authorisation simplified.

In Summary

•The electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) came into place in January when the government abolished visa requirement. 

•Travellers have to pay $30 processing fee, show proof of air ticket and hotel booking.

Kenya Association of Travel Agents CEO Nicanor Sabula speaks during the Kenya Travel Industry Payments Summit in Nairobi, on March 26 /HANDOUT
Kenya Association of Travel Agents CEO Nicanor Sabula speaks during the Kenya Travel Industry Payments Summit in Nairobi, on March 26 /HANDOUT

Kenya stands to lose on international visitors despite the government’s visa-free initiative, travel agents have cautioned.

This is as a result of a “tedious” process in the acquisition of the electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA), which replaced the visa requirement in January.

Most affected are those initially exempted from obtaining an entry visa, the Kenya Association of Travel Agents (KATA) has said, where there were at least 41 countries whose citizens were allowed to visit Kenya visa-free, including the East African Community member states.

While the government has removed the visa requirement for all, most of the countries that enjoyed visa-free access have been thrown back to the eTA platform, with their citizens required to pay the $30 processing fee.

Industry players are concerned that the eTA introduced fresh costs and paperwork, with travellers also required to share proof of air ticket and hotel booking.

When applying for the eTA, the traveller must provide their arrival and departure dates. 

Persons holding previously issued e-visas, including East Africa travel visas are however exempted from the requirement of applying for eTA.

“Countries that were allowed visa-free into the country have been impacted as they have to undergo the tedious process and payment. This is the segment that we must address otherwise we could lose out,” KATA chief executive Nicanor Sabula told the Star.

He spoke on the sideline of the inaugural two-day Kenya Travel Industry Payments Summit in Nairobi, which has brought together industry players, fintechs and other players in the payment landscape, to explore the intersection between payments and the travel industry.

According to KATA, there is a need for the government to simplify the process and reduce the requirements, especially on the paperwork (required online submissions).

“The effect and impact is not what we had anticipated as a market and therefore our call to the government is that can we facilitate and make it easier for people to travel to Kenya. We need to tweak it and lessen the process. Find a mechanism that will make the process easier,” Sabula said.

Tanzania for instance issues visa’s on arrival with lesser requirements, KATA noted.

The travel agents’ lobby has also raised concerns over the “unpredictable” tax environment in the country, which it says is impacting the industry.

“We sale travel in advance sometimes up to one year early so every time there is a change in the taxation framework, that affects the costs of our products. It means we have to bear that cost or when we pass it to the client, they complain as they feel cheated,” Sabula said.

Meanwhile, the association is pushing for a wider adoption of the latest payment systems including cryptocurrency, to ensure Kenya remains competitive in the fast-changing travel industry.

According to KATA chairman Joseph Kithitu, the industry is witnessing the convergence of technological innovations, changing consumer behaviours, and regulatory shifts that are reshaping the payments landscape not only in Kenya but across the globe.

“From traditional credit cards to a myriad of digital payment options, the expectations of travellers have evolved. We must adapt to these changing dynamics, ensuring that our payment systems meet the evolving needs and expectations of our customers,”Kithitu said.

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