FRIDAY August 28, 2020
By Joe Mhawi
Tranquility News Reporter, Arusha
Tourism, one of the hardest hit industries by the novel coronavirus disease epidemic, is gradually bouncing back in Tanzania after an uncertainty of nearly five-months, offering a ray of hope to the country’s economy.
Tanzanian authorities have reopened skies for international passenger flights from June 1, 2020, becoming the pioneer country in the East African region to welcome tourists to sample attractions with which it endowed.
Latest statistics from the state-run conservation and tourism agency shows over 30,000 tourists visited the country’s national parks in July alone.
Tanzania National Parks (Tanapa) Assistant Conservation Commissioner heading the Business Development portfolio, Ms Beatrice Kessy, said by mid August 2020 the country received over 18,000 tourists, implying that tourism is slowly, but surely rebounding.
Serengeti, Manyara and Kilimanjaro national parks are leading in terms of receiving a lion’s share of tourists, amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
For instance, Tanapa’s data issued by Ms Kessy indicates that this month (August) the three key national parks forming northern tourism circuit, have attracted 7,811, 1,987 and 1,676 tourists, respectively, while Ibanda and Mahale national parks drew only 7 and 6 visitors, respectively.
Sadani National Park has not received a single tourist yet since the Tanzania government opened its borders for tourists three months ago, thanks to a significant decline of the Covid-19 cases in the country.
About 1.5 million tourists visited Tanzania in 2018, generating $2.4 billion, up from $2.3 billion earned in 2017.
However, tourists visiting all 26 national parks countrywide had sharply dropped to merely three immediately after Tanzania confirmed its first Covid-19 case on March 16, 2020.
“National parks used to receive 1,000 plus visitors during the low season month in the past,” Ms Kessy explained during an interview with Tranquility News in Arusha recently.
She attributed the gradual increase of tourists visiting the country to a recovery plan, which Tanapa and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism jointly devised basing on the World Tourism Organisation’s guidelines.
Ms Kessy said Tanapa had spent the period of between March and May this year when the Covid-19 was still taking its toll on the country on identifying new tourism products to attract tourists and increase days of their stay in the country.
“We’ve also been developing digital episodes for different tourism products and advertising them through various social media platforms,” Ms Kessy said.
She enumerated some of the new tourism products, which were increasing the number of days tourists stay, as fishing along rivers and ponds, game viewing hideouts, wildlife orphanage centres, zip lines (rope bridges) and virtual tourism.
Shelters are built in some parks for the game viewing hideouts product borrowed from Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to enable tourists to view and take pictures without wildlife animals noticing them.
Young endangered species without parents are taken care of at the orphanage centres where interested tourists can visit them at a fee.
The virtual tourism product is tailor-made for the great wildebeest migration. Videos of the spectacular event are posted on YouTube for tourists to subscribe and view them.
Ms Kessy said Tanapa had soon after the tourism industry was reopened invited journalists and tourism agents from Switzerland, Spain, Israel and other countries to see how safe from the Covid-19 pandemic the country was.
“None of the tourists who visited Tanzania after reopening the tourism industry has been reported to have tested Covid-19 positive even after the mandatory 14-day quarantine back home,” she said.
Tanzania waived the mandatory quarantine period when it reopened its borders for tourists on June 1, 2020, but retained some protocols such as temperature checks, washing hands frequently, masks wearing and social distancing.
The government though has opened the country’s borders for tourists; it has not released the Covid-19 cases since April 29, 2020.
It, nevertheless, updated its entry requirements for tourists early this month requiring them to display a negative 72-hour polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and to fill a health questionnaire to enter.
Once they have arrived in the country, tourists are required to wash their hands frequently, stay at least one metre away from other and wear masks.
Ever since the government lifted the suspension on international flights to the country, several airlines have scheduled flights, including Fly Dubai, Neos, Qatar, KLM, Turkish Air and South African Airways.
A lesson Tanapa and other players had learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic was the importance of promoting domestic tourism, Ms Kessy said, explaining that some tour operators had created special packages to enable local tourists to flock the parks particularly during low seasons.