Kenya recently joined other African countries, such as Rwanda, in implementing a visa-free policy. Last year, we explored the advantages of this policy for various African nations, emphasizing its potential to stimulate the economy and promote local tourism. Through this initiative, Kenya aims to attract approximately 5 million tourists annually. Before this new development, 51 countries did not require a visa to enter the country. However, this new policy is now open to all countries worldwide.
The initiation of Kenya’s Visa-free policy can be traced back to December 2023. President William Ruto declared, in his address during the 60th independence celebration, that starting from January 2024, Kenya would be visa-free for citizens worldwide. According to Ruto, Africa as a continent needs to do away with visa requirements. He noted that Europe, for example, with a population of 450 million people, has abolished visa requirements for 27 countries. Ruto believes that abolishing visa requirements strengthens socio-economic development across the continent. However, despite this announcement, entering Kenya without a visa still presents challenges reminiscent of the previous visa system.
Visitors to Kenya still encounter obstacles similar to those faced under the visa system, including hidden fees and waiting periods. The current process involves obtaining an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA), paying a $30 fee, and waiting for at least three days for approval before travelling. Only members of the East African community are exempt from this requirement. Critics argue that the new system merely renamed the visa to an ETA, maintaining the familiar hurdles.
According to Sean Mendis, an airline executive, the ETA necessitates submitting a confirmed flight itinerary and copies of hotel bookings. He highlights additional requirements such as bank statements and proof of finances. The ordinary ETA is non-changeable, even in the event of flight cancellations. However, the premium ETA, priced at $52, allows a one-time flight change. Notably, each ETA permits a single entry, and another application cannot be made until exiting the country, restricting travel to Kenya within 72 hours.
Speculation persists that the Kenyan government’s motive behind this new system is financial gain, with critics arguing that the previous visa regime offered more flexibility. Under the visa regime, certain countries enjoyed visa-free status, eliminating extensive paperwork. Additionally, frequent travellers could secure multiple entry visas. However, under the new ETA system, travellers need to reapply after each visit.
It remains early to assess the impact of these changes on tourists planning to visit Kenya. However, the cumbersome process of applying and reapplying for an ETA, coupled with concerns that other African countries may adopt similar stringent measures, could deter potential visitors.
While advocating for visa-free access, Kenya must streamline entry requirements, considering the single-entry limitations and unforeseen circumstances like cancelled or rescheduled flights beyond the traveller’s control. Neglecting these aspects may result in a decline in tourist numbers. This might diminish Kenya’s allure as a destination known for its wonderful wildlife and other tourist attractions.