[email protected]: Old challenges, new solutions to tourism in past six decades

Thursday September 30 2021

Tourists view wildlife via telescopes. Photo | FILE

By Damas Kanyabwoya

Dar es Salaam. Tanzania’s 1999 Tourism Policy outlined ten challenges that it sought to address in order to make tourism a viable sector of the economy. The policy, which is still in operation, mentioned the shortage of specialised skilled labour, inadequate infrastructure and poor institutional and technical capabilities. Other challenges mentioned were poor coordination across the board, little involvement of local communities, as well as limited indigenous participation in tourist investment opportunities.

That Tanzania had such challenges in 1999 - about 38 years after independence - speaks volumes. But it provided a clue on the complexity involved and difficultness of leveraging the natural and cultural attractions the country is so much endowed to bring in desired economic benefits.

The first Tourism Policy was crafted in 1991. This one highlighted the same challenges that the 1999 policy came to mention nine years later. But at that time the magic wand was private sector involvement.

So the policy set the ground for reforms that increased the participation of the private sector after three decades of government control of the tourism sector. The 1991 policy also enabled the creation of the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB), which became the “guiding vehicle” of tourism promotion and development in the country. But the policy soon proved to be inadequate, leading to its review and the crafting of the 1999 document. The 1999 tourism policy, therefore, set out its general objective as being “promoting the economy and livelihood of the people… through encouraging the development of sustainable and quality tourism that is culturally and socially acceptable, ecologically friendly, environmentally sustainable...”

The 1999 policy re-emphasized the need to put an emphasis on the usual; infrastructure development; human resources development. But it also highlighted the need to create strategies to boost domestic tourism to avoid reliance on foreign tourists. The policy also raised the issues of eco-tourism, cultural tourism and the role of women, among others.


Same challenges

Two decades since the 1999 policy was issued the sector still faces the same challenges that were highlighted by the 1991 policy.

How successful was the 1999 policy as a guiding document is difficult to say because even the implementation strategy is not yet in place. The minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Dr Damas Ndumbaro, told the Parliament in June that the drafting of the implementation strategy will be completed in this financial year, 2021/22.

Whatever the case the question now is whether six decades of dealing with the same challenges have shaped the methods the government employs to transform tourism.

At least what is clear is that what ails the tourism sector cannot be solved by sector-specific solutions and sectoral policy guidance. Problems in the tourism industry are deep rooted.

They require structural transformation in the general economy; international accessibility needs overhauling of the whole aviation sector; upgrade of tourist facilities needs a robust banking and financial sector; dynamic skilled labour needs an overhaul of the education system. And all these need a government that means business, which can guarantee policy predictability for the next 60 years.

To its credit the government has made extra efforts to solve some of the challenges facing tourism industry despite the meager financial resources available.

The efforts range from attracting foreign investments in the hospitality industry to investing in the aviation sector.

Are the efforts too little too late? Study after study has shown how tourism could fund the entire Tanzania’s budget with adequate investments and right strategies. The World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index ranks Tanzania the first in Africa and 12th worldwide for the quality of its nature-based tourism resources.

In the pre Covid-19 pandemic era tourism was the largest foreign exchange earner. In 2018 and 2019 tourism earned the country $2.5 billion and $2.6 billion respectively, according to statistics from the Bank of Tanzania.

In 2019 Tanzania’s tourism sector contributed an estimated 17 percent of its GDP and directly employed over 850,000 workers, making it the country’s second-largest component of GDP and third-largest source of employment, according to the latest Tanzania Economic Update report by the World Bank.

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Covid-19 calls for reforms

The gains of the last 60 years have gone down the drain because of the global pandemic. The World Bank says Tanzania has seen 60 percent drop in visitor numbers and 72 percent drop in revenue as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Statistics from the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism show that in 2020 only about 620,867 international visitors came to Tanzania, which was less than half the number of visitors that came to Tanzania in in 2019 (about 1,527,230). Tourism receipts also plummeted to $714.5 million in 2020 from $2.6 billion in 2019.

Studies show that the global pandemic would affect tourism in the long-term as it has already shaped the behaviour of some tourists, with many of them shunning long-distance travels. Economies that are dependent on tourism, such as Tanzania, will be highly impacted.

Abandoning tourism, altogether, is not an option because the sector can have the key to achieving the post pandemic growth needed to avert total economic catastrophe.

The World Bank says in its Tanzania Economic Update report entitled Transforming Tourism: Toward a Sustainable, Resilient, and Inclusive Sector, published in July that the economic potential of Tanzania’s tourism is so significant that if well well-managed can pull the rest of the economy up through generating foreign-exchange earnings; increasing fiscal revenue through taxes, licenses, and fees; creating high-quality jobs; and forming backward linkages with other economic sectors.

Tanzania’s tourist gem

The ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism says that the country has set aside about 40.5 percent of the total land for national parks, game reserves, forest reserves, marine parks and reserves, and

game controlled areas. The country is well known for Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain in Africa; the Serengeti – endless plains and the home of world’s longest wildebeest migration; Islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, which are also known as Spice Islands. Tanzania is home to seven World Heritage Sites both natural and cultural, including the Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Mt Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar Stone Town, Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara, and Kondoa Rock Art Paintings.

But Tanzania can only exploit the huge economic potential in the tourism if the government creates an efficient, reliable, and transparent business environment, according to the World Bank.

Here the mutual distrust between the government and private firms should be addressed.

The government should also establish an information-management system that enables policymakers to improve planning and the creation of viable investment opportunities.

But the government should also ensures that companies in the tourism sector and those in the “downstream value chains, have access to affordable transitional finance”, the World Bank says in its report.

To reassure visitors and re-establish confidence among consumers and the business community the government must consistently promote, monitor, and report on adherence to health and safety protocols, the World Bank adds. At this juncture it is important that the government adhere to global health and safety protocols in close collaboration with the private sector.

“The health, hygiene and safety of travelers, workers, and local communities will be critical to reopening tourism firms and destinations.

The government should embrace global health and safety protocols for Covid-19 and communicate that commitment to source markets.

These protocols should apply to all tourist destinations in Tanzania, including airports and high-traffic public areas,” the World Bank report reads in part.

More specifically the government will have to facilitate large-scale reinvestment in the tourism sector; launch regulatory reforms that are necessary to lower the cost of doing business; create a shared vision for tourism development among key stakeholders; and improve the collection and sharing of tourism statistics to inform strategy and policies.

The government would also need to boost domestic and regional tourism due to the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has discouraged long-distance travel.