Tourism is the biggest foreign exchange earning sector in Tanzania ahead of manufacturing and mining, fetching the country over $2 billion each year.
An international luxury travel network, Virtuoso, placed Tanzania among the hottest upscale international destinations for holiday seasons in the world during the fall season in April.
"Tanzania continues to register a remarkable performance in tourism sector internationally ... Tanzania has emerged first in the list of hot 10 countries that have recorded the largest percentage of growth in tourist bookings worldwide," the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) said in a statement yesterday.
According to Virtuoso, Tanzania witnessed a 98 per cent increase in bookings and topped the list in April due its unrivalled safari destinations.
But a new list released in August this year by the same organisation showed that Tanzania is now lagging behind.
"Tanzania is experiencing a huge increase in bookings as travelers seek out its incredible scenery and diversity of wildlife," Virtuoso said in April.
In the new ranking, Virtuoso named Italy as the top country its customers are booking and Kenya as the fastest-growing destination.
Countries that have seen the largest percentage of growth in year-over-year bookings in the latest August 2016 ranking are Kenya (up 59%), Iceland (up 56%), Saint Martin (39%), China (35%), Ecuador (34%), Japan (32%), South Africa (28%), Tanzania (27%), Croatia (25%) and Jamaica (23%).
Although Tanzania is still listed as a strong safari destination, it fell behind its wildlife tourism rivals South Africa and Kenya in the new ranking.
This means that while tourist bookings in Tanzania increased by a whopping 98 per cent in April, they only increased by 27 per cent in August, representing a significant slide.No reason was given for the decrease in the speed of bookings in Tanzania.
But the slowdown in August comes against the backdrop of a disputed 18 per cent valued added tax (VAT) levy introduced on tourism services effectively from July 1 this year, which tour operators have all along claimed would result in a decline of tourists visiting the country.
Last month, President Magufuli put to bed the debate on the disputed new VAT levy on tourism services after strongly backing it.
According to the president, the government is determined to exhaust all available sources in its quest to increase revenues to fund development projects.
“It’s better to have 500,000 tourists who pay tax than host two million who don’t,” he said.Commenting on the latest findings, TTB’s acting director of marketing Philip Chitaunga said his office was proud of the milestone registered by the country globally.
He described it as a clear manifestation of TTB’s efforts to promote tourism destinations in the country.
“It clearly shows the commitment that TTB and other stakeholders attach to promoting the growth of this lucrative industry,” said Chitaunga in a statement availed to The Guardian yesterday.
Early this week, TTB confirmed that Tanzania will participate in the World Travel Market, a leading global event for the travel industry slated for London in November this year.
The confirmation came amid speculation that the country was likely to miss out on the crunch event following TTB’s failure to raise 800 million/- as entry fee and the cost of hosting pavilions at the event.
On his part, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Major General Gaudence Millanzi, said the government is not surprised by the findings.
According to Millanzi, the report by the international travel agency network specialising in luxury and experiential travel put to bed speculations by ‘prophets of doom’ that the number of tourist arrivals would significantly go down once the disputed levy came into effect.
“It was too early for them to judge on the fate of the sector, it is still pushing on and reports on the ground indicate that there are long queues of tourists waiting to enter the gates of our national parks,” said the Permanent Secretary.
He also attributed the surge in tourists to what he described as the prevailing peace and security in the country.
But he admitted that the country was still not doing enough to market its tourism destinations.
Tour operators have however rubbished the findings by the American firm, deeming them as false and not reflecting the real situation on the ground.
Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) chairperson Wilbard Chambulo told The Guardian that the real effects of the 18 per cent VAT levy on tourism services is expected to be felt towards the end of August and September this year.
“The report failed to highlight the real scenario…you can’t see the effects now because tourists had booked in advance for July and August…the situation will be a whole lot different towards the end of this month,” Chambulo explained.
The TATO chairman, who also manages the Kibo Guides tour company, said his firm traded 70 per cent of tourists between July and August this year, but added that the situation is likely to change with an expected 26 per cent fall in tourists hiring the services of his company.