How Tanzania’s tourism agency defied COVID-19 lethal effects

The Tanzania National Parks assisted troubled entities, refined market and services delivery and enforced protocols on the pandemic

SATURDAY June 17, 2023

Tanzania has introduced Covid-19 samples collection centre within the wilderness of Serengeti. PHOTO | FILE

By Deus Bugaywa

The Tranquility News Correspondent, Tanzania

COVID-19 might not have gone for good, but Tanzania’s state-owned conservation and tourism agency has become resilient enough to overcome shocks the pandemic spread to the travel and tourism industry globally.

Thanks to the Tanzania COVID-19 Social-Economic Response and Recovery Plan (TCRP) for providing Tanzania National Parks with over $20 million out of over $39.2 million allocated for the Ministry of and Natural Resources and Tourism.

Much as Tanzania’s travel and tourism industry is renowned for the ‘big five’, namely elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo, tourists to the country expect to spot them easily.

However, for visitors to conveniently and comfortably cruise and enjoy the sight of the gigantic wildlife and other attractions, another big five, namely the ‘Five As’ should be in place.

The TCRP funding enabled TANAPA to retain the Five As which stand for Attractions, Access, Accommodation, Amenities, and Affordability.

Tanzania COVID-19 Social-Economic Response and Recovery Plan funds enabled Tanzania National Parks to repair an airstrip at Mkomazi National Park spanning Kilimanjaro and Tanga regions in the East African country. PHOTOS | DEUS BUGAYWA

TANAPA enhanced operational support to most affected institutions in the industry, strengthened tourism market and service delivery, improved adherence of businesses to safety and international health standards.

The funding also strengthened engagement of the private sector’s actors in the tourism industry by providing them with COVID-19 relief training package and strengthening a digital platform for tourism statistics.

According to the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) Conservation Commissioner, Mr William Mwakilema, the agency allocated funds for most affected parks to revamp the industry severely hit by the pandemic then.

Mr Mwakilema says the Tanzania President, Dr Samia Suluhu Hassan, devoted the funds to TANAPA for it to improve parks’ infrastructure which, following heavy downpour a year before the pandemic broke out, was in bad shape. “The funds have greatly supported the revamping of the tourism industry,” Mr Mwakilema says.

Among projects implemented under the TCRP funds were the construction of five helipads at Mount Kilimanjro and rehabilitation of five airstrips at Nyerere, Tarangire, Mkomazi and Saadani national parks.

Elephants, one of the big five found in almost all Tanzania’s parks, explore the wilderness of Tarangire National Park in the East African country where the travel and tourism industry thrived notwithstanding shocks compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The repair and maintenance of the airstrips and helipads will not only strengthen the safety and security of tourists in accordance with the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority’s standards, but will also lead to improved tourists’ satisfaction levels and confidence.

“In a rarely and unfortunate turn of events, when a climber falls sick from abrupt illness or injury, help is extended to him in many ways, one is airlifting him using rescue and evacuation helicopters. Improving trails and helipads, therefore, puts us in a good position of timely serving our clients,” explains Conservation Commissioner Mwakilema.

Other projects were the construction of a 6.5-kilometre hiking trail from Mweka Hut to Millennium Station, the hiking trail from Horombo to last Water Point; repair of crossing ways on Lava Tower- Baranco; construction of a 6.5-kilometre trail from second cave to Kileleni; construction of 55 crossing ways at eight national parks of Serengeti, Nyerere, Kilimanjaro, Tarangire, Mkomazi, Saadani, Katavi and Gombe.

Equally involved was the construction of 1-kilometre guard trail at Gilman’s area to Uhuru peak and the construction of trails using concrete (rigid pavement) of 0.7 kilometres from Kilema to Horombo at the Kilimanjaro National Park, and the construction of revenue collection gates at Zange area at Mkomazi National Park.

“In Serengeti, we built a bridge across Kirawira River, connecting Kirawira A and Kirawira B; two strategic areas in the park, as most of accommodation facilities are at Kirawira A and the airstrip is at Kirawira B.

A water tank and a reception cum revenue collection gate (Below) built under the auspices of the Tanzania COVID-19 Social-Economic Response and Recovery Plan at Mkomazi National Park.

“We were initially using a rope bridge, you can imagine how inconvenient it was to our visitors, but now the two points can be easily accessed,” explains Mr Mwakilema, stressing that the two sides can now be confidently reached during patrols.

In addition, with the funds, TANAPA procureed three generators installed at revenue collection gates, four water boozers, 12 trucks, four low beds, four graders, four excavators and four vibrator soil compactors for periodic maintenance for the infrastructure to remain in good shape at any given time.

The completion of the projects coincided with a one-year anniversary of the Tanzania: Royal Tour film, jointly sparking the influx of tourists who trickled to the country’s northern tourism circuit just after the pandemic waned.

“As we commemorate one-year’s anniversary of the Tanzania: Royal Tour film, we are seeing an increase in the number of tourists visiting our country, especially at Serengeti and Kilimanjaro national parks which are prominently featured in the film in which President Samia serves as a tour guide,” says Mr Mwakilema.

The TANAPA Conservation Commissioner says Serengeti National Park received 491,375 visitors, fetching the country more than $68 million worth revenue, while Kilimanjaro received a total of 259,789 guests and recorded revenue amounting to over $34 million.

The Tanzania National Parks Conservation Commissioner, Mr William Mwakilema, says the coincidence of projects implemented in national parks during COVID-19 and a one-year anniversary of the Tanzania: Royal Tour film, sparked the influx of tourists after the pandemic waned in the country.

The rest of the parks, whose infrastructure was rehabilitated by the TCRP funds and those that were not covered, received a total of 866,632 visitors, contributing over $38.9 million to the national coffers.

The total number of guests, who visited the 22 TANAPA parks countrywide, a year after the film was unveiled to the public, stands at 1,617,796 tourists, who fetched the country over $141 million.

The Tanzania travel and tourism industry has been growing significantly lately, contributing considerably to economic growth. Between 2016 and 2019, for instance, international tourists’ arrivals swelled by 18.9 per cent, with foreign exchange receipts growing by nearly 25 per cent during the period in review.

Until April 2020, tourism earnings accounted for more than 24 per cent of the total share of exports, making the industry the second largest foreign exchange earner after agriculture.

The tourism industry was badly hit by the pandemic. In 2020, the number of visitors dropped by 60 per cent, with revenue from public institutions decreasing by 72 per cent, from nearly $212.8 million in 2019 to about $59 million in 2020, according to the World Bank report titled Transforming Tourism: Toward a Sustainable, Resilient, and Inclusive Sector 2021.

We were initially using a rope bridge, you can imagine how inconvenient it was to our visitors, but now the two points can be easily accessed,” The Tanzania National Parks Conservation Commissioner, Mr William Mwakilema.

Unlike many other countries, Tanzania did not implement specific lockdown measures. However, the reduction in tourism travel activities impacted interlinked sectors, particularly air transport, hotel businesses, and retail trade.

The impact of COVID-19 on tourism was accompanied by various other related impacts, which are not linked to tourism, like the decrease in oil prices in 2020.

Tourism is also a key sector for economic growth. In 2019, the tourism industry was the second-largest GDP component, with a contribution of 17 per cent. The industry is the third-largest source of jobs, according to the World Bank.

Moreover, the industry has strong linkages with other domestic sectors such as transport, accommodation, beverage and food, and the retail trade.

Tourism creates direct and indirect jobs for low and unskilled workers, making it an important driver of economic growth and the fight against poverty.

Tanzania President Samia Suluhu Hassan (Left) guides Royal Tour photojournalist Peter Greenberg during the filming of a documentary dubbed Tanzania: The Royal Tour. PHOTO | FILE

The industry stimulates domestic and foreign investments in new hotel infrastructure, management of the same; aviation, training, and travel services; tour operators’ businesses, and marketing and promotion of tourism activities.

Furthermore, foreign currency earnings from tourism allow importation of capital goods that support domestic production.

According to the Bank of Tanzania, since March 2020, the Tanzanian government adopted key measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

The measures have had an impact on all sectors, including travel and tourism.

Prior to the pandemic, the travel and tourism industry was the largest foreign exchange earner, the second largest contributor to the GDP and the third largest contributor to employmentΩ

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