Arusha. With tourist vans slowly getting back on the roads leading to national parks, optimism is high that Tanzanian tourism is on the recovery track. The leading foreign exchange earner had until recently been under paralysis due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, signs of recovery are now evident.
“The impact was big. But, tourism activities can be as vibrant as in the past,” exuded a confident Aloyce Nzuki, the permanent secretary (PS) in the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. The key economic sector raked in $2.5 billion (Sh.5.7 trillion) last year, and projections were that the figure would be much higher this year.
Projections were that tourist arrivals in2020 would be upwards of 1.9 to two million this year, rising from 1.6 million last year.
Dr Nzuki said quick intervention by the government and industry players to rescue the sector appeared to be on the right track. A few weeks after the outbreak of the global pandemic, it was feared the number of foreign visitors for 2020 would drop to only 437,000.
However, a recent survey indicated Tanzania would this year register 900,000-to-one million tourists, meaning that visitors would only drop by a half.
“The situation is not as alarming as it has been projected,” the PS said, adding that the government’s decision to open its skies helped improve the situation.
However, industry players believe that recovery for the multi-million dollar sector would be a herculean task, needing full participation of all stakeholders.
Unlike its neighbors, Tanzania opted for earlier opening of the skies and easing of other restrictions as it believed lock-downs would kill the economy. The government had warned that with Covid-19, earnings from the sector this year would drop from $2.6 million (Sh6 trillion) projected to $598 million (Sh1.4 trillion).
Besides, generating 25 percent of the forex earnings, the sector also supports nearly 1.6 million direct and indirect jobs across the country.
One of the measures has been setting the national Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the management of Covid-19 in tourism business operations.
However, industry stakeholders in Arusha affirm that the recovery efforts being initiated can be successful through reduction or scrapping of some taxes or levies.
“The best recovery plan is to reduce the tax burden to tour operators,” lamented Andrew Malalika, who operates a fleet of tour vans.
He told The Citizen that the tour companies should be assisted ‘to manage the situation’ through tax cuts.
The Natural Resources and Tourism minister Hamisi Kigwangalla said when launching the SOPs yesterday that tourism would remain key to the national economy.
The ongoing tourism recovery efforts have been boosted by resumption of flights by the international and regional carriers to Tanzania.
These include the global airlines landing at the Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA), the gateway to the famous national parks and other tourist sites in the northern circuit.
KLM, the Royal Dutch Airline, Qatar Airways and Ethiopian Airlines are among those which have resumed flights to KIA as Kenya Airways (KQ) and RwandAir.
“Resumption of flights is a major boost to the tourism sector which was devastated by Covid-19,” said the Kilimanjaro Regional Commissioner, Ms Anna Mghwira.
Ministry officials admit that the industry would have been hard hit by 75 percent by Covid-19 if appropriate measures had not been taken in time and in full.