Terror, Ebola kill tourism in Tanzania

29May 2016
Edward Qorro
Guardian On Sunday
Terror, Ebola kill tourism in Tanzania

Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Prof Jumanne Maghembe told the National Assembly in Dodoma earlier in the week that tourists visiting the country slightly fell last year compared to 2014, when he was presenting his ministerial budget estimates for the next financial year.

Prof Jumanne Maghembe

He said a total of 1,102, 619 tourists visited the country last year, a drop of 3.4 per cent from the previous year that recorded 1,140,156 arrivals.

This comes at the backdrop of figures released by the Bank of Tanzania (BoT) showing an 11 per cent increase in revenues from the sector that earned the country $2.23bn last year compared to 2014.

But Josephat Msimbano, a tourism official in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism said the decline in tourist arrivals was a result of travel advisories avoiding East African destinations due to terror threats and the outbreak of Ebola in a faraway West Africa.

“Terror attacks in the neighboring countries dealt our country a big blow in the tourism sector,” he said, adding; “some international flights had to be cancelled because of the threat of the attacks and the outbreak of Ebola, which had somewhat affected the sector.”

Ebola killed about 11,000 people in West Africa since the disease was reported early 2014. The disease hit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

In August last year, Tanzanian n government appealed to its citizens to take precautions against the Ebola virus following reports that a Burundian refugee died of the deadly disease in Kigoma region.

Tanzania and Kenya tourism therefore suffered the most with tented camps and luxury lodges going with very few tourists due to the outbreak.

Tanzania - which relies heavily on tourist dollars from visits to game reserves, Mount Kilimanjaro or Indian Ocean beaches had been aiming for a record year to top the more than 1 million visitors who came in 2013.

The Hotels Association of Tanzania, representing 195 sites nationwide, said business was down 30 to 40 per cent on the year and advanced bookings, mostly for 2015, were 50 percent lower.

Since late 2011, Kenya has seen an upsurge in violent terrorist attacks with government officials asserting al-shabaab being behind the attacks in retaliation for Operation Linda Nchi, a coordinated military mission between the Somalian military and Kenyan military that began in October 2011in southern Somalia.

In September 2013, unidentified gunmen attacked Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, killing 67 people and more than 175 people were reportedly wounded in the mass shooting.

It followed by an April 2015 attack when gunmen stormed the Garissa University College in Garissa, killing 148 people, and injuring 79 or more with the Al-Qaeda affiliated group, Al-Shabaab claiming the responsibility.

Earlier Prof. Maghembe had said that the government was in the 2016/17 financial year committed to increase budget in tourism to enable the sector double its contribution to the GDP from $2bn (4.4trn) to $4bn (8.8trn) in the next two years.

Even with the assurance the Minister made to Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) whose primary goal is to market the country’s tourist destinations, his ministry still remains under budgeted this year with as little as 35 per cent of what it had been expecting.

Recently, Public Relations Officer with TTB Augustina Makoye told this paper that it will be a tough toll for the body to effectively market the country’s destinations with such meagre funds at its disposal.

“If we are to compete with other countries then the issue of giving more funds for promotion and marketing our attractions should not be overlooked,” she suggested, decrying the receipt of only Sh600m out of the Sh4.1bn allocated to the sector last year.

According to her, it is but a far cry from what South Africa and Kenya, major competitors would allocate for their tourism industries.

According to a five-year marketing blue print rolled out in 2013, Tanzania aims at attracting two million visitors in 2017 from the current 1.1 million arrivals annually.

It was a blue print on a strategy to market the country in the global tourism market engineered jointly by Tanzania travel agencies and the tourism private sector by next year.

It was jointly done by the government through Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) representing the public sector and the Tourism Confederation of Tanzania (TCT) that represented Tanzania travel and tourism private sector.

The move paid off and saw Tanzania reaping $1.95bn in 2014, up from $1.88bn a year earlier topping the country's top foreign exchange earner, thanks to visitors mostly from United Kingdom, America, Germany and Italy and five secondary markets in France, Netherlands, Canada, Australia and Spain, according to BoT report.

The strategy went along marketing products such as wildlife, water sports, mountain climbing and a special focus on promoting cultural tourism enterprises (CTE).
Despite the efforts, the number of tourists’ arrivals was short lived, as 2015 had seen the figures plummeting.

But besides terror and diseases threats, the key marketing organs such as the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) still remains under funded, says Msimbano.

Chief Executive Officer with Hotels Association of Tanzania (HAT) Latifa Sykes also sounded pessimistic over whether the goal was ever reached, saying the measures put in place by the government did not reflect investment commitment in the sector.

“The government was silent on past projections and it has only recently acknowledged tourism as an important industry yet it continues to ignore challenges impeding the industry’s growth,” she said.

Sykes who is also a member of TCT was of the opinion that the government’s projections reflected a bleak in the future of the industry that as private sector, they were waiting for the budget proposal on tourism from the Finance Minister, to work out new strategies.

“We don’t expect anything better unless the government addresses loopholes in the tourism task force report ,” said Sykes.

According to her, Tanzania was an s an expensive destination while Kenya was capitalizing on the harsh reality, putting its rate tourist friendly.

“For example, for a tourist to be cleared their Visa at KIA, they will have to part ways with $50, whereas in Kenya, the same tourist pays half the amount,” and an ordinary room for a tourist retails at $500 per night and a hiring of a tour vehicle costs $180 a day in Tanzania, she says.

Sykes suggested that it was wise for the country to become more competitive within the region and other countries that have the same tourism products as Tanzania as well addressing the issue of poaching and multiplicity of taxes which continue to cripple the sector.

“Government needs to realize that tourism profit margins are decreasing every year… any increase to their operations will be filtered to the tourists, if we think we are expensive now, think about how it is going to be in the next year… lets focus on how we can maintain and support the industry that contributes significantly to the country’s foreign exchange,” she says.

Sykes decries even Tanzania entry visa prices, saying they are too high for forfeit other destinations.

Citing an example, she says FINCA’s annual conference that was earlier scheduled for Tanzania was moved to Uganda because participants were told to pay $250 for a business visa into Tanzania.

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