WHILE the impact of Covid-19 on the tourism sector globally has been devastating throughout 2020, Tanzania stands out as a rare success story in mitigating the ravages of the deadly pathogen.
Tourism, one of the country’s key economic sectors, is encouragingly making recovery from the turbulence and pangs of the novel coronavirus, after the government took various measures that sought to cushion the industry.
Government’s move to cushion the tourism sector was necessary given its increasing contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), currently standing at 17.2 per cent.
The tourism industry, thus, provides direct employment for more than 600,000 people, and generated approximately $2.4 billion in 2018, according to government statistics.
The startling Covid-19 outbreak, however, stunned the growth expectations in 2020, due to restrictions on air travel and mandatory quarantine of arrivals.
This resulted in the shutting of businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors on top of a collapse in demand, leading to an unprecedented shock on global tourism. Tanzania was no exception as nations had to bear the consequences of the outbreak.
The otherwise lucrative sector in Tanzania hasn’t really bounced back ever since the first coronavirus case was recorded in March this year but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Safari Industry according to SafariBookings.com revealed a significant trend of decline in new bookings and large-scale cancellations of existing bookings.
According to the survey which involved 261 tour operators, there was a 75 per cent decrease in actual bookings due to the coronavirus outbreak, further spelling doom on wildlife reserves that rely on its revenue, and the local people employed in the safari industry.
The World Bank’s 14th Tanzania Economic Update (TEU) forecasts economic growth to slow to 2.5 per cent in 2020, from the 6.9 per cent growth reported in 2019.
Tourism operators in Tanzania forecasted revenue contractions of 80 per cent or more in 2020.
According to the government’s study on the impacts of Covid-19 on the tourism sector, without the pandemic, the 2020 season would have attracted approximately 1.9 million tourists and generated US$2.9 billion of forex (about 6tri/-).
Without the pandemic, it was expected that the government would have collected revenue of 2.7tri/- (US$1.16 billion) and the sector would have provided direct employment to 622,000 people.
In May this year, the government laid bare the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the tourism industry, with a warning that at least 477,000 jobs could be lost and revenues drop by 77 per cent, should the pandemic persist beyond October.
The then Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Hamisi Kigwangalla told the Parliament that the number of people who will lose jobs represented 76 per cent of the total direct employment in the sub-sector.
While acknowledging the effects of the pandemic on their businesses, some of the operators proposed a raft of measures, including lowering tariffs to keep the sector afloat.
“We all know how heavy we’ve been dealt with this pandemic, nonetheless, let’s also turn our attention and focus on domestic tourism; it doesn’t hurt if you charge 100,000 for a room to accommodate a Tanzanian family,” advised Mr Chambulo, who also owns Kibo Guides Company.
Tanzania went through a very brief period of restricted movement from March to May 2020 as well as border closures and airspace bans with barely any nationwide lockdowns.
However, things quickly changed, following swift measures initiated by the government to contain the spread of the deadly disease in the country.
Among the measures that sought to cushion the industry from the pangs of the novel coronavirus included the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) formulated by players in the tourism and hospitality industry and the government.
One of them required hotels and tourist facilities in the country to bear Covid-19 certifications, a move that seeks to protect visiting tourists from contracting and spreading the killer disease.
Such certifications will be placed at the entrances of the facilities with the government eager to descend on those found flouting the regulations.
The stakeholders also agreed that every tourism entity must appoint and adequately train a Covid-19 Liaison Officer, who will be the point of contact with the Health Ministry.
“The Liaison Officer should keep abreast of health protocols and preventive measures,” read part of the SOPs seen by ‘Daily News’.
The stakeholders also proposed that all tourism operators who are required to interact with their guests, to protect themselves by having sanitisers and gloves available at their workplaces such as vehicles, stalls and vessels.
According to the SOPs, all arriving flights are required to have an Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) compliant so as to allow the Tanzania’s Immigration Department and Airport Authorities to receive and interrogate the flight manifest for possible high-risk passengers.
The players agreed that non-APIS compliant flights be notified that their passengers will be either subjected to the Health Ministry’s screening or have their service denied entry into the country.
“Any passenger aboard the flight who has travelled to and from any of the listed high-risk countries or regions may be subjected to tests by the Ministry of Health Officials.
Following effective measures that were taken by the government, hordes of tourists are now flocking to Tanzania as fears over the coronavirus pandemic are rapidly fading, raising hopes for the country’s hardest-hit tourism sector, which is emerging from the ravages of the deadly pathogen.
Tanzania has somewhat managed to restore tourists’ confidence, as no visible signs of new coronavirus infections have been reported lately. Of recent foreign tourists have not been deterred from visiting the country and catching a glimpse of its breath-taking attractions.
Declaring victory against the deadly pandemic in June, this year President John Magufuli assured visitors that the country is safe from the coronavirus, adding social and economic activities including tourism must continue.
International airlines including KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Swiss Air and Emirates, which halted flights in mid-March, are now flying to and from Tanzania.
“We have won the confidence of tourists, and the world knows that we have all necessary public health measures in place to ensure the safety of our visitors,” said Kilimanjaro Regional Commissioner Anna Mghwira, while welcoming at least 177 tourists onboard KLM plane mid this year at Kilimanjaro International Airport.
In its recent travel advisory, Tanzania’s Health Ministry allayed fears over Covid-19 infections, saying it has instituted strict measures including a requirement for on-board passengers to submit proof that they have tested negative for the virus within 72 hours.
Chairman of the Tanzania Tourist Board Thomas Mihayo, a government agency tasked with overseeing the tourism sector, said he is upbeat about the sector’s recovery, adding the government has adopted strategies to make the industry more sustainable in the future.
“We recognise that tourism is an important pillar of our economy. We will do everything to revive its old glory,” he said.