Arusha. The charm that defined Arusha as a popular tourist spot and diplomatic city is fast disappearing because of coronavirus.
With many tourist hotels left empty, classic eating joints closed and regional organizations in a lockdown, the city has lost its allure.
For some tourism industry players, this is not an entirely new phenomenon though the magnitude of the crisis is unprecedented.
But with the Covid-19 cases still soaring across the world, their main worry is how long would the downturn persist. Regional and international organizations based here have either suspended services or allowed some of their staff to work from home.
“Arusha streets are no longer vibrant,” said Eliamani Laltaika as he stares at a near empty restaurant frequented by tourists near the Clock Tower.
The iconic tower, midway between Cape Town and Cairo,is the site of numerous tourist hotels and eating joints.
This is where shops selling cultural artifacts and jewelleries, and until recently currency exchange shops, have been located.
Dr Laltaika, a law don with the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST), is a bit worried.
The survival of some tourist-oriented outfits in Arusha could be at stake in the absence of tourists, expatriates and business travelers.
But the Nelson Mandela University lecturer’s fears could not go well with the assessment of the situation by his twin brother - also an academician.
“I am sure it is going to be very temporary. It’s good people have taken enough precautions,” observed Dr Elifuraha Laltaika, a law lecturer with the Makumira University.
He told The Citizen fears of an imminent collapse of the Arusha economy may not be realistic and may be due to tourism taken to mean everything.
“Tourism in Arusha has blurred everything....other economic activities. But tourism industry is highly dependent on foreign clients,” he pointed out.
He allayed worst fears on Covid- 19, saying the challenge was not unique to Arusha or Tanzania and that after sometime “things would come to normal.”
He, nevertheless, insisted effects of the global pandemic was a wake up call to develop domestic tourism which he says has not been fully tapped.
“I see a lot of optimism. The worst effects of coronavirus will be short-lived,” he told The Citizen in an interview.
But as the Laltaika brothers gave hope for the struggling Arusha residents - some already left jobless - an economist said impact of Covid-19 should not be taken lightly.
“The economic impact for Arusha is enormous. The city is dependent on tourism and tourism related activities,” said Mr Said Chiguma,an economic analyst.
He said 40 per cent of employment and 70 per cent of incomes in Arusha are derived from tour operations, hotels, lodges and allied sectors.
“Nobody is safe. The economy is on the brink of total collapse,” he warned, citing the conference venues now deserted after suspension of meetings.
Mr Chiguma, who is the managing partner of Chimba Attorneys,insisted the hospitality sector was a source of income for many families.
Most conspicuous has been the absence of the staff of the East African Community (EAC), whose offices are only metres away from the city centre.
Officially the 200-plus EAC employees working in Arusha have been allowed to work from home depending on arrangements in their respective units.
However,some units are reported to have taken ‘advantage’ of the situation to allow them to take leave. The African Court of Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR) announced early this week it was suspending its ordinary court session in Arusha due to the epidemic.
“The measure is absolutely necessary to prevent any risk of contracting Covid-19 by the Judges and staff,” said the President of the Court Justice, Mr Sylvain Ore.
He said the quasi-judicial organ of the African Union (AU) has been forced to act decisively “in the interest of health and safety of all”.
There are reports that most of the tourist lodges in Ngorongoro and Serengeti have closed and sent their workers home.
This is due to a near-zero fall in foreign tourists. It is estimated that about 50 percent of tourists visiting Tanzania would most likely go to Ngorongoro and Serengeti.