Tourism officials set for talks on work permits

17Mar 2016
Edward Qorro
Arusha
The Guardian
Tourism officials set for talks on work permits

Work permits and other elements of the law on foreigners working in the country are among topics set to top the agenda at the tourism and hospitality sector annual general meeting which begins today in Arusha.

Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Prof. Jumanne Maghembe

The two-day meeting to be graced by the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Jumanne Maghembe (pictured), will host working sessions between representatives of the public and private sectors on key issues including the country’s 1991 Tourism Policy and the 2008 Tourism Act, along with its regulations.

They will discuss a perceived skills gap within the tourism industry and the possibility of addressing it through proposed changes to the law regarding work permits for non-Tanzanian citizens, according to the chief executive officer of the Hotels Association of Tanzania (HAT), Lathifa Sykes.

Other issues on the meeting agenda include the need to demolish tourism facilities located less than 60 meters away from a water source, and similar environmental matters related to the industry, Sykes said.

“We are thrilled that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, under its new leadership, has instigated these sessions which will give the private sector a chance to directly engage with the government,” the HAT boss added.

The executive secretary of the Tourism Confederation of Tanzania (TCT), Richard Rugimbana, noted that tourism is the number one foreign exchange earner for the country with the potential to prop up the national economy.

He said in light of this, it was unfortunate that the sector continued to be hampered by wanton destruction of Tanzania’s natural assets, a crippling skills gap, and restrictive labor laws which – according to him - prevented international experts from sharing critical knowledge to improve industry standards.

“The multiplicity of taxes and levies, incoherent policies and regulations continues to impact negatively on the tourism business environment, which in turn hinders investment for further growth of the industry,” Rugimbana told The Guardian.

The Bank of Tanzania (BoT) also confirmed in a recent report that tourism continues to be the country’s biggest source of forex at present, easily outperforming the mining and manufacturing sectors.

Tourism revenues soared 11 per cent in 2015, reaching $2.23 billion on the back of higher tourist numbers, the central bank said. But a supposedly uncondusive business environment, including the tough tax regime and various infrastructural constraints, has led to growing worries among industry players of a possible decline in the not-so-distant future.

For example, many hotels are said to be paying at least 55 different taxes and levies, with some of them overlapping with each other. Some international hotels have even threatened to pull out of the country in protest against the plethora of taxes.

At a meeting with members of the Arusha business community in late February, the Minister for Finance and Planning, Dr Philip Mpango, said the government would take steps to ease the tax regime from the next financial year (2016/17).