Arusha. Prospects that tourism may recover soon from the dire effects of Covid-19 may be miles away.
Industry players insist there is no guarantee for the current optimism because of the new wave of the pandemic in the tourist source countries.
“The problem is not our determination to revive the sector,” said Wilbard Chamburo, the chairperson of the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (Tato).
“It is the travel restrictions in the source countries. Tanzania has opened its skies but visitors are not coming in their droves because of lockdowns,” he said.
Mr. Chamburo, who is a prominent tour and lodge operator, hinted there could be a light at the end of the tunnel should anti-coronavirus vaccine be discovered.
“There is no coronavirus in Tanzania, we are told. But there is a new wave of attacks (Covid-19) in the market source countries,” he pointed out.
Andrew Malalika, a member of Tato - a powerful lobby group for the industry based in Arusha - said tourism may start to recover from the middle of next year.
“What I advise the government is to continue to support us through tax reduction. Taxes have been our main problem,” he said.
Tourism, the country’s key sector of the economy, was almost grinding to a halt after the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in the East African region.
International arrivals sharply dropped following massive cancellation of flights by the visitors as the international carriers were grounded.
Domestically this led to the closing down of hotels but grinding to a halt of tour vans and aircrafts taking tourists to numerous attractive sites.
The impact was much felt in the northern circuit which attracts a large number of visitors but much more so for Arusha city.
In a matter of weeks,the country’s safari capital lost its shine as the city was bereft of its usual charm of hosting foreign tourists and conference delegates. The government in collaboration with the stakeholders quickly swung into action on how to save the leading sector in foreign exchange generation.
Initial estimates were that the number of visitors to Tanzania would fall to a mere 437,000, a devastating 75 per cent fall!
Until the coronavirus struck,tourism was a vibrant sector of the economy, noted for its fast growth and competing with the minerals.
For 2020, the number of tourists to the country was projected to reach a record two million, raking in more than $ 2.5 billion.
“We would have been hit hard by 75 per cent if we had not taken appropriate measures to curb the spread of the virus,” an industry official said.
After several interventions by the government and other stakeholders, the impact may not be so severe as had been feared. This coincided with the opening up of the skies for the foreign visitors and the easing of travel restrictions across the world.
The ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism has allayed the initial fears and maintains there will be no massive drop of tourists to Tanzania due to Covid 19.
Industry sources say the country would likely register between 900,000 and one million tourists this year.
“The situation for 2020 is not as alarming as it has been projected,”said the ministry permanent secretary Aloyce Nzuki.
He said projections indicate the number of tourists to Tanzania for this year would only drop by half to around 900,000 to one million in 2020.
Until last year, the number of foreign tourists to Tanzania had climbed upwards of 1.5 million to 1.8m.
Initially - before the outbreak of Covid 19 -it was projected the visitors would hit two million this year, earning the economy over $ 2.5 billion.
He attributed the encouraging signs to the government’s decision to open its skies in May this year.
“The decision was a boon to the sector because our tourism largely depends on the foreign tourists,” he said.
Dr. Nzuki was speaking to reporters after opening a stakeholder meeting aimed to lay down strategies that would bring tourism on its feet.
He added that although the impact of reduced number of visitors remains, there are signs the industry can bounce back through innovative measures.
“We want to bounce back but it is a herculian task. All parties must be involved,” he pointed out during the meeting in Arusha.
The PS said Tanzania opted for opening of the skies and easing of restrictions because lockdowns killed the economy.
Tourism,the leading forex earner for the economy, raked in $2.5 billion (Sh.5.7 trillion) last year, according to records at the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.
Early this year, the same ministry warned that Covid-19 impact earnings from the sector this year could decrease from $ 2.6million (Sh. 6 trillion) earlier projected to $598m (Sh.1.4 trillion).
One of the measures has been setting the national Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the management of Covid-19 in the tourism business operations.
Besides generating 25 per cent of the forex earnings,the sector also supports nearly 1.6 million direct and indirect jobs across the country.
The same optimism has also been expressed by the Tanzania National Parks (Tanapa) which says tourists arrivals will hit a record five million in 2025.
The national conservation agency says the goal can be attained through enhanced protection of the natural resources. “We are calling for support from relevant stakeholders to boost tourism,” said Mr Pascal Shelutete, Tanapa senior assistant commissioner in charge of communications.
He affirmed Tanapa’s resolve to aggressively market the country’s tourist attractions in the leading tourist-source markets abroad.
The conservation agency, which manages 22 national parks across the country, has also promised to continue to improve its tourism services.