President Jakaya Kikwete this week said in Arusha that lack of a reliable and affordable airline in Africa was among obstacles hindering tourism in the continent.
Delivering a keynote address at the just-ended African Development Bank annual general meeting, President Kikwete pointed out that it was more expensive to travel within Africa than travelling between the continent and Europe.
While in 2010 there were 940 million tourists recorded globally, only 49 million came to Africa - despite the continent boasting unrivalled tourist attractions.
The President is right about unjustifiable fares being charged by most domestic airlines in the continent. For instance, two years ago, possibly because of monopoly, the Dar es Salaam-Mwanza route, which is approximately a one-hour flight, was costing the same as flying from Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg, South Africa.
Five years ago, again because of monopoly, flying from Nairobi to Entebbe, which is approximately a 45-minute flight, was more expensive than flying from Dar es Salaam to Dubai – a five-hour journey.
Our airlines, apart from being expensive, are unreliable and not safe to fly for those who really care about aviation safety.
Our hotels are still the most expensive compared to many other parts of the world. A room that costs $200 per night in Arusha costs just $80 in places like Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Stockholm.
It’s the same situation in Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar and Nairobi when it comes to hotel rates in East Africa, as well as the rest of Africa.
Get-quick-rich investors or those who don’t understand how the hotel industry operates, as well as how long it takes to break even, are managing this sector in Tanzania.
The high cost of travelling in Africa, coupled with high hotel rates, poor services and dilapidated infrastructure, are among key factors which not only hinder tourism, but also affect economic growth.
It’s more expensive for a Tanzanian trader to travel to Accra, Ghana, to buy goods than to fly from Dar es Salaam to Guangzhou, China, for the same purpose.
Although there are high quality and affordable goods in Ghana, especially fabric materials, which could attract thousands of buyers in East Africa, the challenges associated with travelling between the two countries stunt intra-Africa trade.
How can economic integration take place in Africa while Africans can’t afford travelling within their own continent because of high cost, poor infrastructure, etc?
We strongly believe that these costs could be reduced if development partners, governments and private investors played their roles effectively.
For instance, a big portion of high fares charged by domestic airlines in Tanzania goes to the government as taxes. It’s the same story for hotels and many other tourist services.
It’s time now for President Kikwete and his fellow heads of state to ensure that Africa has some of the most reliable and affordable airlines and hotels in the world.