Economy on rebound in 2021 amid Omicron variant fears

Tourists admire the lions in Serengeti National Park. PHOTO | FILE

Summary

  • During the year (2020), visitors to Tanzania declined by more than a half, compared to 2019. This was arguably a major blow to the economy

Arusha. The boom years for the tourism industry may still be a distant reality - at least for now.

But, the key sector of the economy registered a significant recovery for 2021, according to statistics.

This is despite a major drop following the devastating impact of Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and now new fears on the Omicron variant. During the year (2020), visitors to Tanzania declined by more than a half compared to 2019, arguably a major blow to the economy.

Recent statistics by the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism indicate a 15 percent increase in the first ten months of 2021.

From January to October, 716,169 foreign tourists visited Tanzania compared to 620,86 registered for the whole 2020.

Before the outbreak of the pandemic, the number of arrivals to Tanzania had hit a record high of 1.5 million which generated some $2.6 billion in 2019.

The government is optimistic the number will further increase with the ushering in of a New Year 2022.

The rather slow recovery is manifested in the northern tourism circuit, especially around Arusha, where vans carrying tourists to the attractive sites are back on the road. Within the city, hotels and conference facilities - some of which suspended operations - have started to attract clients.

The Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA), regional chapter, believes the situation will further improve.

“The signs are there for better times to come,” said Walter Maeda, the chairman of the chamber and a hotelier. The minister for Finance and Planning, Dr Mwigulu Nchemba, is among the visitors to the northern hub who was recently amazed by the rebound.

“Many businesses in Arusha which had closed down because of Covid-19 outbreak are back to life,” he said during his visit here.

He was categorical that Arusha was not the same as it was last year when it was heavily impacted by the pandemic thanks to the recovery efforts.

Arusha and neighbouring regions - notably Kilimanjaro and Manyara - hosts nearly 80 percent of tourists who visit Tanzania annually.

Regional commissioner John Mongela echoed saying the famous tourism hub would soon recapture its lost glory given the surging number of visitors.

In sharp contrast with 2020, the ending year (2021) saw the official inauguration of another five star hotel in town, the Gran Melia.

Incidentally, the multimillion dollar accommodation facility was severely impacted by Covid-19 only a few months after starting operations in 2019. It was among a host of tourist outfits in the national tourism hub which temporarily closed doors due to worsening scarcity of customers. The government believes the recovery of tourism was not only due to relaxed travel restrictions globally but also aggressive marketing.

Although not compared to the previous years, there had been a modest marketing of the country’s tourist attractions in the international fairs.

But it is the use of the same “stick” which severely hit the foreign exchange generating industry that the government used to woo back the tourists.

A swift action to roll out vaccination against Covid-19 infection as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) may have paid handsomely for tourism rebound.

There was a 52 percent increase of tourist arrivals from January and November 2021 and 69 percent rise in revenue collections for the period of January to October.

Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Damas Ndumbaro says the vaccine roll-out from July 2021 stimulated the increase of the international visitors to Tanzania.

“The decision was not only firm but brought trust among the foreign visitors and hope for the local industry players,” he said in Arusha recently.

Besides triggering a sharp drop in arrivals, the tourism revenues plunged to a lowest level not seen in years.

Other measures taken by the government to rescue the leading foreign exchange generating sector included a Sh90 billion stimulus package issued in October.

Tanzania’s U-turn on Covid-19 vaccination won the country accolades from the East African Community (EAC) and its affiliated bodies.

These include reduction of vaccination test fees and enhanced precautionary measures have brought new confidence to the coordinated efforts. “We appreciate the government of Tanzania for reducing Covid-19 test charges,” declared John Bosco Kalisa, the executive director of the East African Business Council (EABC).

He said for Tanzania, the reduced cost of tests and vaccination would boost cross border trade and boost more international tourists.

According to statistics, the EAC lost a whooping $4.8 billion in international tourism receipts and 2.1 million jobs in 2020 due to Covid-19.

Issuance of entry visas on arrival is another carrot that tourism industry players believe would quickly woo back tourists.

Zanzibar recently started to process the visa documents for tourists from abroad at the entry ports as a measure to boost the number of visitors.