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Kenya, EAC Adopts e-Passport: What this means for the Country’s Tourism

ON THE SPOTLIGHT

There’s no doubt that technology is quickly changing the way things are done from private enterprises to government agencies. While private enterprises are leading in technology diffusion, public entities are still catching up, moving one tech at a time. Even so, the zeal to transform services delivered to the citizens remains strong as ever and technology is helping with this in many meaningful ways.

Last month, Kenya’s Immigration department introduced e-passports in the process phasing out the current ordinary ones. Just in case you are wondering what it is, an e-passport is a passport which features microchip technology: an integrated circuit (chip) within its pages contains the data that are essential in verifying the identity of the passport holder. These data include the personal data found on the data page of the passport, the biometrics of the passport holder, the unique chip identification number, and a digital signature to verify the authenticity of the data stored on the chip. The chip technology allows the information stored in an e-Passport to be read by special chip readers at a close distance.

It is an initiative by the East African Community to synchronize passports across the region in a bid to enhance integration. It will be rolled out simultaneously across member countries which include Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. They will join other fifty countries that have already transitioned to e-passports including Ghana, Gabon, Egypt, Morocco, and Mauritius. The e-passport will enhance faster clearance at points of entry and exit. It is highly secure, hence avoiding passport reproduction and tampering. It will also provide travelers benefits such as the use of automated border clearance.

So, what are the possible implications for Kenya’s tourism?

The harmonization of passports the East African bloc is a positive gesture that will spur tourism across the region. This cements the commitment towards having a formidable integrated regional tourism in Africa. It follows adoption of common tourist visa for visitors to the East African Community (EAC) that was effective from 2014. It allows visitors to move freely between the three countries for a period of 90 days. For the first time since 2012, earnings from the tourism sector improved by 17.8 percent from KSh 84.6 billion in 2015 to KSh 99.7 billion in 2016. This is according to Economic Survey 2017, a report about Kenya’s economy published annually by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). The EAC member countries form part of Kenya’s critical tourist constituency. Data from KNBS shows that the country received about 53,000 visitors from Uganda and another 33,000 from Tanzania. With EAC e-passport, tourists arriving from the member states will be cleared much faster at any of the country’s ports of entry. Smart gates that will be used alongside the e-passports will be introduced at airports. This will be a big relief for many tourists as immigration bureaucracy features as one of the top complaints among tourists. Going forward, tourism in East Africa will continue to expand, providing a major source of foreign-exchange earnings.

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