Arusha. A regional tourism expo kicks off here today with East Africa expecting to recapture the market severely hit by Covid-19.
Exhibitors from the six East African Community (EAC) partner states and outside the bloc are converging at the TGT Grounds optimistic the sector will rebound.
Tanzania, the host country, is even more upbeat and expects the Tourism Expo to serve as another platform to woo back the visitors.
The Expo will go hand in hand with tourist trips to various tourist attractions, notably within the northern circuit and elsewhere.
In a show of a great need to capture the foreign visitors, the government has waived the park entry fees for the expo participants.
“It would also serve as an opportunity for Tanzania to advertise tourist attractions,” said the Natural Resources and Tourism minister Damas Ndumbaro.
In the pre-Covid-19 pandemic, tourism was the leading foreign exchange earner for the economy, generating $2.5 billion and $2.6billion in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
Only about 620,867 international visitors landed in Tanzania last year, less than the number (1.5million) in 2019.
Tourism revenues, according to statistics from the ministry, plummeted to $714.5million in 2020 from $2.6billion in 2019.
The Expo, organized by the EAC, the partner states and the private sector, is being held at a time statistics have indicated a modest increase in the foreign visitors.
According to the EAC, tourism arrivals in the region dropped by about 67.7 percent last year compared to 2019 in absolute terms.
For Tanzania and Kenya, the leading destinations in the region, visitors to the national parks dropped by 62 and 60 percent respectively.
In absolute terms, EAC received about 2.25 million international tourists in 2020 compared to about 6.98 million in 2019.
This led to the region losing a whopping $4.8billion last year in tourism earnings, according to a study by the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC).
The Nairobi-based think tank anticipates the region will receive 3.75million visitors by the end of this year, a 1.5 million rise from 2.25million last year.
EAC secretary general Peter Mathuki said this was the first Tourism Expo - and that it would from now on be held on a rotational basis.
The three-day event, to extend to Monday, is expected to attract over 2,000 visitors and 100 exhibitors from around the region and beyond.
“The expo aims at creating awareness on tourism investment opportunities and promoting EAC as a single destination”, Dr Matrhuki said here on Thursday.
He said the regional organization would not let its tourism sector go as it was a key and much dependable economic sector.
It contributed at least 10 percent of the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 17 percent of export earnings and seven percent of jobs.