By Dr Yollande Tankeu Meli & Boris Andzanga Ndzana (Download article PDF)
Visa Digitalization and Tourism in Cameroon: A Promising Future?
Cameroon is endowed with a culture rich in natural reserves and breathtaking landscapes, making it a popular destination for tourists from all over the world. However, the cost and hassle of obtaining a visa have long been one of the main obstacles to the growth of tourism in Cameroon.
In order to respond to the growing interest of travelers and to make Cameroon a preferred destination for tourists, the government has recently made significant progress by switching from the manual visa procedure to the electronic visa procedure. By Decree No. 2023/147 of March 2, 2023 (1), the electronic visa application came into force on April 30, 2023, in diplomatic missions, consular posts, international airports, air, land, and sea borders. It could be a potential solution to boost tourism in Cameroon.
This transition to a digital visa procedure has many advantages. This article analyses the impact visa digitalization on the tourism sector in Cameroon. In the first part, the paper will present an overview of tourism in Cameroon, and in the second part, the expected effects of visa digitalization on the tourism sector in Cameroon.
- Overview of the Tourism Industry in Cameroon
With its great cultural, climatic, and geographical diversity, Cameroon is usually referred to as Africa in miniature and also has a wide range of tourism potential. In 2020, the country ranked third in Central Africa in terms of tourist numbers and generated approximately 382.59 million euros or 1% of its GDP (2).
Between 2006 and 2019, the number of tourists entering the country increased from 45,000 to 1,021,000, generating about 608.31 million euros in revenue, or 1.7% of its GDP (3). However, with the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020, there has been a sharp decline in revenue generated by tourism from €608.31 million in 2019 to €382.59 million, representing a 1% decrease in the country’s GDP.
In order to further promote the tourism sector, the Cameroonian government has put in place several strategies to attract not only visitors but also investors. In this perspective, a policy based on sport has been put in place by the government to attract the said investors and tourists. Indeed, sport is considered not only as a platform for teams to meet but also as an opportunity for economic actors to highlight the opportunities offered by the host country.
Cameroon is known throughout the world as a country of football, commonly called Africa in miniature and the country also has a huge potential for flora and fauna. From national tourist parks (Waza) to tropical forests, Cameroon’s wildlife is one of the richest in terms of biodiversity in Africa. Cameroon is home to over 900 species of birds, over 300 mammals, and many other species of interest (4).
The cultural diversity of the country with its traditional festivals such as the “Ngouon,” and the “Ngondo” makes it a popular destination and a means of attraction for tourists. This natural potential as well as these cultural events have had an impact on the facilitation of visa procedures which is now done electronically. Thus, visa digitalization is not without effect on the tourism industry in Cameroon.
- Effects of Visa Digitalization on the Tourism Sector in Cameroon
One of the important policy measures in the tourism sector is the relaxation of the visa regime (5). Just as the abolition of visas on entry to some countries increases the demand for tourism (6), the digitalization of the visa application process further develops the tourism industry in Cameroon. Thus, this measure recently adopted by the Cameroonian state may have significant effects on the expansion of the tourism sector.
Electronic visas have been widely adopted around the world. Their simplicity and efficiency make them an attractive feature, with the objective of reducing the time and cost of obtaining a visa. The shift to digital processes has many advantages that can help boost Cameroon’s tourism offer and boost the country’s competitiveness (7). An efficient visa procedure will help Cameroon to maintain a positive image and will be a means to improve its competitiveness in the tourism sector.
On one hand, the digital visa application process will offer easy access to visa services from the comfort of the traveler’s home. As the authorization is linked to the individual’s passport electronically, it eliminates the need for a physical visa stamp and saves time and money (8). This helps to promote Cameroon as an easy and convenient tourist destination and attract more tourists to Cameroon.
On the other hand, the digital visa process improves the transparency of the application process, allowing the respective authorities to control the process, which reduces the risk of fraud or corruption. Faster transmission of information also avoids potential problems for tourists who have not received their visa in time.
Indeed, with a transparent visa application procedure, tourists have more confidence in the selection process, and the government can increase its revenues by building trust with tourists. Digitalizing the visa application process is an excellent opportunity for Cameroon to open the doors to more travelers and boost the country’s economy.
In addition, the digital visa application procedure makes the approval process much more efficient. Digitalization rationalizes the visa application process, allowing the authorities to process applications faster and thus reducing waiting times for visa approval. Similarly, the digitalization of visa applications would enhance border security. The process limits illegal entry into the country, thereby reducing the number of people who could disrupt Cameroon’s security.
Another expected effect of visa digitalization is the improvement of the visibility of the country on digital platforms, particularly social media. An improvement in the number of tourists will help promote Cameroon worldwide, creating a ripple effect that would attract other tourists and ultimately improve Cameroon’s image with potential business partners.
However, as the government seeks to improve its tourism sector, visa digitalization is not a perfect solution. Indeed, technological advances in the visa application process pose problems such as online fraud and identity theft. Cyber-attacks on government websites can also put visa applications at risk, by exposing confidential data.
Another potential difficulty is the lack of technological infrastructure, especially in remote areas of Cameroon. This lack of infrastructure could exclude some potential tourists from the visa process. In addition, a malfunction of the digital systems would result in long queues of travelers stuck at the borders.
- Conclusion and Recommendations
The digitalization of the visa application process can benefit both tourists and the government. The introduction of a digitalize visa process simplifies the visa application procedure, thus promoting tourism in Cameroon. However, the efficiency, security, and speed of visa approval require appropriate technology. Thus, educating the population on the use of this new tool would benefit the tourism sector and could make Cameroon an excellent tourist destination.
Similarly, the government should focus on preventing cyber-crime, addressing the challenges of switching to digital visa applications, and ensuring that the process is as efficient and user-friendly as possible.
By developing adequate infrastructure and ensuring the security of the visa application process, Cameroon can boost its economy and improve its development objectives.