IT was delightful to hear recently that the number of tourists visiting Tanzania has increased significantly, boosting revenue receipts from 1.3 billion US dollars in 2011 to 2.21 billion in 2016.
Indeed, it is hats off to the Ministry of Natural Resources and tourism. The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Prof Jumanne Maghembe, told the National Assembly on Tuesday that a total of 867,994 tourists visited the country’s tourism spots in 2011, but the figure spiralled to 1,284,279 arrivals in 2016.
It is imperative to mention at the outset that Tanzania remains the richest country in the world in terms of the number of tourist attractions. There are 16 national parks, 29 game reserves, 40 controlled conservation areas and marine parks and other spots.
This being the case, the government has apportioned more than 44 per cent of the nation’s land area to game reserves and national parks. Mount Kilimanjaro, the Roof of Africa, is also located in Tanzania. Other sparkling spots are in Zanzibar. But until recently tourist arrivals remained bleak.
It is delightful, nevertheless, to learn that arrivals have been climbing steadily, thanks to the indefatigable efforts by Tanzania National Parks and other stakeholders whose advertising campaigns have borne fruit.
For the moment the nation envisages creating a friendlier climate that would see the number of arrivals climbing even higher. Indeed, much greater effort is needed in this direction.
It is unthinkable that a country that has 16 attractive wildlife sanctuaries and many other intriguing tourist spots should fail to shunt in millions of lovers of nature. Much greater effort should be made to popularize Tanzania as a sparkling tourism spot.
Unfortunately, most roads that lead into national parks are impassable during rainy seasons. These should be improved to gravel or even tarmac level. We cannot afford to disappoint visitors who contribute significantly to national economy.
During peak tourism seasons, especially between June and November, tourist hotels fill too full and the nation falls embarrassingly short of beds. Tanzania has about 15,000 beds in tourism facilities against a standard requirement of about a million.
The situation calls for a scramble to construct new tourist hotels and other facilities if extended targets are to be met comfortably. Neighbouring Kenya has more than 28,000 tourist beds on the Indian Ocean coastline alone.
The city of Nairobi has more than 15,000. This means that Kenya, which logs 1.5 million tourist arrivals every year, will keep sprinting ahead in the tourism industry if too little or nothing is done to sell Tanzania as a tourist destination more vigorously.
The state should sit up and take notice. Tourism is a crucial part of Tanzania’s economy, contributing about a quarter of the country’s foreign exchange revenue and supporting some half a million jobs directly, along with many more indirectly.
The industry grew steadily at the start of the decade. Foreign visitor numbers rose from 783,000 in 2010 to 1.14m in 2014. Annual revenues grew from $1.2bn to $2bn over the same period.
Four Seasons and Hyatt are among the international hotel chains that expanded in the country, while regional groups, such as Elewana, opened more high-end accommodation.
“We came here because it was cheaper than South Africa and we were told there’s a greater guarantee of seeing all the big animals,” said Kate, a British tourist, as she gazed at a group of two dozen hippos in the Ngorongoro Crater.
But the past year has not been so bountiful. Devota Mdachi, then managing director of the Tanzania Tourist Board, said that while the official annual figures have yet to be tallied, there was a “slight fall in the number of arrivals in 2015 and . . . this year (2016) there might be a slump again.”
The Ebola outbreak, which peaked in 2014 in three west African countries, and terrorism, nearer to home in Somalia and Kenya, are two of the main contributing factors, Ms Mdachi said.
“Most tourists think Africa is a country so if something happens in one country it spreads to others,” she adds. Poaching has also been rampant in Tanzania.
In the Selous Game Reserve, the largest in the country and a Unesco World Heritage Site, the elephant population has fallen from around 110,000 to 15,000 in the past 40 years.
“Given the threat to these animals, it’s likely tourism will be affected because elephants are one of the great attractions for tourists,” said Simon Lugandu, a conservation manager at the World Wildlife Fund.
Ms Mdachi said that the lack of a national airline also puts off some tourists. “People can easily fly to Kenya so that’s where they go on holiday,” she says.
In a detailed report on Tanzanian tourism last year, the World Bank said the government’s goal of increasing annual revenues to $15bn by 2025 would require growth of about 20 per cent each year.
“While attainable, the achievement of this target will require substantial investments in infrastructure, the provision of support to the private sector, and the development of human capital in diversified geographic areas,” the report said.
It also highlighted the need to “improve the quality of governance”, in particular to create a “fair, business-friendly taxation system and the development of transparent redistribution mechanisms”.
In some respects the new government, which took office last November, is moving in the opposite direction. Tour operators are aggrieved about the imposition of value added tax of 18 per cent on tourism services such as national park fees and transport hire from July 1 (2016).
This had been announced in the years national budget. The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that a few months ago Kenya, Tanzania’s neighbour and tourism rival, cut fixed fees on similar services to entice visitors.
“I understand that every sector has to help contribute to the government, but before the tax is imposed I would suggest growing the cake,” said Sirili Akko, executive secretary of the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators.