TANZANIA TOURISM REVEALS RECORD RESULTS BUT STORM CLOUDS GATHER
(Posted 15th November 2013)
Tourism has climbed to the top of the economic performance scale in Tanzania, outstripping all other sectors including gold mining which had claimed top spot a year ago amid record high gold prices at the time.
The Bank of Tanzania earlier in the week released data for the period October 2012 to September 2013, which shows an increase in tourism earnings from 1.61 billion US Dollars to 1.82 billion US Dollars.
While tourism stakeholders broadly welcomed the news, some also immediately suggested that the Tanzanian government better wake up to this new reality and facilitate the sector better compared to the past. ‘This performance, which has been long in coming, must now translate in to greater political clout of the sector in day to day politics. For one the government should provide greater funding to a sector which is performing so well to make it perform even better. More money for tourism promotion is however just one area where there is now need for action. We also require greater sensitivity by our government to the impact of several negative factors. Tanzania has always been a land known for conservation and the present poaching situation, which is completely out of hand and has been so without any serious government intervention until very very recently, is giving us negative publicity around the world. If this continues the trend of more visitors can easily end abruptly unless we finally do something about it. Tanzania has been singled out as the country where the most elephant are poached in the world and the confiscation of ivory in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam are evidence that not all is well. Besides poaching our government also needs to refrain from causing international controversy and outrage over such shortsighted projects like soda ash farming at Lake Natron, the Serengeti highway, the Mwambani port and the tinkering with the Selous. Destroying that fragile habitat with Uranium mining and hydro electric plants is not in the best interest of our sector. Let them bring back the application to have the Eastern Arc Mountains be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that would go a long way to reassure our future visitors that they are truly coming to the land of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro and those sites are protected and not ransacked by short sighted greed’ said a regular source from Arusha when discussing the good news on tourism sterling performance.
Meanwhile have senior stakeholders across the border in Kenya pointed at the Tanzanian performance and used it in a campaign gathering swift momentum to have their own government finally take decisive action to support the sector, which in particular at the coast is suffering from poor occupancies. ‘If Tanzania can overtake us just like that and become the regional tourism power house we obviously have not done our homework. Maybe our government now wakes up from their dreamland and sees reality as it is. Our officials are portraying the sectoral performance in a light which in reality is very dim. At the risk of repeating myself, you have outlined many action points which can and should be taken up. Let them start by dropping that silly VAT issue which has in the face of eroding market confidence added a great deal of extra cost to holiday packages to Kenya. KTB deserves a big fat cheque to blitz our overseas markets like we did in 2008 and 2009. Balala then knew what was needed but we are starting to wonder if our present political leadership understands what for him was obvious. He knows the coast and he knows how quickly things can deteriorate. We need to give airlines incentives to fly to Mombasa, and truly Kenya Airways should consider routing some of their European flights onto or via Mombasa. There are whispers that their forecast bookings are down by up to 20 percent on the Nairobi to Mombasa route and if true that would be another blow for coast tourism. I admit that our coast resorts, many of them anyway, have for too long just raked in money and not invested but now is the time to do so. Now that our brothers in Tanzania have overtaken us at high speed, that should be our wake up call to do something about it and return the favour. Competition in the region is good because it will improve service levels and we are after all one region in Africa which has the best attractions spread over the 5 member states of EAC. But does anyone listen? I still hope that we can have a national dialogue going very soon because along the Magical Kenya Travel Expo these crucial issues were not addressed; perhaps because we had too many international buyers around and did not want to air our challenges while they were here. Let us use the review of WTM performance and impact to add that element of a national private public sector workshop to collect views and suggestions and then bring it to government for implementation’ said and wrote a regular Nairobi based source with decades of experience in the sector.
Challenges on both sides of the border, in Tanzania with worries over the future of tourism and the impact on the sector’s performance over poaching and projects threatening the very fabric of the country’s conservation concept of old and in Kenya, where some now say the abyss is so deep that they cannot see the bottom any longer. Watch this space for future updates on the performance of the tourism industry in the East African region.