Dar es Salaam. Tanzania’s tourism sector is experiencing a rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic – and aspirations for its continued growth are high: by 2025, the country hopes to reach $6 billion in tourism revenue, assuming the influx five million tourists a year. Achieving such lofty goals will require major upgrades and improvements to tourism infrastructure and services. I present some of them in this article.
Before the pandemic, tourism was the main source of foreign exchange, the second largest contributor to gross domestic product (GDP) and the third largest contributor to employment. After being hit hard by Covid, tourists are starting to return to Tanzania, with 742,133 visitors between January and July 2022, a 62.7% increase from the previous year (Figure 1).
Exhibit 1: Tourism returns after the Covid-19 pandemic
Source: SNB and Bank of Tanzania
But while we are doing well, many bottlenecks persist. These include limited access to cheap finance, inadequate tourism infrastructure, multiple levies, insufficient diversity of product offerings, and a lack of sufficient hotel and airport facilities. . So how can we measure what we do?
Well, the World Economic Forum (“WEF”) in its Travel & Tourism Development Index 2021 (published in May 2022, and themed “Rebuilding for a Sustainable and Resilient Future”) is a barometer of where we stand. It ranks Tanzania 5e of Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries (and 81st in the world out of 117 countries, compared to 86e in 2019). 1st at 4e places within the ASS are taken by Mauritius (62n/a), South Africa (68e), Botswana (76e) and Kenya (78e), with 6e at 10e places taken by Cape Verde (82n/a), Namibia (88e), Rwanda (89e), Zambia (98e) and Ghana (101st).
According to the WEF report, Tanzania and South Africa are very clear leaders within SSA in terms of natural resource rankings. One aspect to consider in more detail as a significant opportunity is the ‘non-leisure resources’ pillar, which measures the extent and attractiveness of factors that drive business travel and other non-leisure travel; although Tanzania’s ranking is broadly in line with the SSA average, it lags slightly behind Kenya and South Africa. More generally, the WEF report highlights that East Africa as a region does not rank as well as Southern Africa in terms of price competitiveness.
Exhibit 2: Tanzania can do more to boost its tourism competitiveness
Source: WEF Travel and Tourism Development Index 2021
Tourists coming to Tanzania often speak of seeing “the Big Five”. Stakeholders in the tourism sector would also say that they have their “Big Five”, namely the “Five As”: Attractions, Access, Accommodation, Amenities and Affordability! From my perspective, and in line with this, I would highlight some priority areas that need to be addressed by government and other stakeholders in the tourism sector.
Reduce the multiplicity of levies and taxes. There is a need to review tourism taxes and levies to reduce multiplicity and create competitiveness across the region – indeed, this was highlighted as an urgent priority in a report recently presented at the 13e meeting of the National Business Council of Tanzania. Currently, Tanzania is considered an expensive destination compared to other destinations such as South Africa and Kenya. Despite positive efforts that have led to the reduction of some levies such as the Tourism Agency License Fee (TALA), there is still room to streamline the fees charged by several government agencies. Additionally, stakeholder engagement ahead of fee changes will facilitate tourism business operations and attract more investment to the sector.
Affordable financing. Tourism businesses across the sector, as well as those in downstream value chains, need access to affordable finance, especially in this post-Covid-19 era, when institutions’ risk appetite financial resources in the tourism market is very low. Support from international development agencies (IDAs) in the tourism sector should be sought for development projects that have a direct economic impact on the sector and the country as a whole.
Improved infrastructure. Tanzania ranks higher than Kenya in safety and security, but lower than Kenya in tourism service infrastructure. For example, the drive from Dar es Salaam to Selous Game Reserve, the largest game reserve in Africa, is bumpy and long, taking an average of 7-8 hours. Flying is a better option and the fastest way to get to Selous. However, it is the most expensive and therefore suitable for more upscale tourists. Again, IDA support to improve tourism service infrastructure could provide a welcome boost.
Improved hotels and airport facilities. Further efforts are needed to attract private sector investment in hotels and ensure diversity of service offerings. Current hotel capacity both on the mainland and in Zanzibar cannot meet the expected influx of 5 million tourists by 2025. Improving efficiency and flight handling capacity at airports is another area that needs to be corrected. The automation of immigration procedures at airports in Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro will help speed up the process. Instead of having a document verification system, barcodes must be set up to scan all documents. This will help reduce unnecessary queues at airports during high season.
Diversified tourism products. Besides wildlife and beaches, the Ministry of Tourism is expected to spearhead the innovation of new tourist attractions. The recent decision to commercialize the Ngorongoro-Lengai Geographical Park and the introduction of “Mice” (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) are commendable efforts as they will increase tourism revenue as Tanzania is an adventure destination already established.
Introduction of direct flights and collaborations with the aviation industry. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Tanzania and Dallas in April 2022 was one of the great achievements of the Royal Tour of the United States by Her Excellency Samia Suluhu Hassan, as it will attract more American visitors to the Tanzania tourist destinations. More direct flights need to be added to key markets while maintaining closer collaboration between the aviation and tourism industries for sustainable growth of the sector. This will facilitate flight interconnectivity for tourists who prefer to take interconnected journeys.
Public awareness. More education is needed for the public and journalists to help promote the tourism sector. Although we are in the era of freedom of expression, care must be taken not to exaggerate unproven facts which harm the growth of the sector.
In conclusion, the goal of $6 billion by 2025 is achievable, but it will take deliberate effort to make it a reality. The president’s royal tour is expected to bring a significant boost in numbers in 2022 and beyond. The tourism sector must be given the highest priority due to its enormous potential to transform the economy of the country, as the sector contributes significantly to foreign exchange and employment.