Arusha, Tanzania (eTN) – It is now official: Kenya’s disputed December 27, 2007 poll has sucked Tanzania’s multi-dollars tourism industry into the fray.
So far, the industry was hit by mass trip cancellations; with the chief of Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO), Mustafa Akuunay, put the number of scrapping planned visits to stand between 25 and 30 percent everyday.
That means the country for the last two weeks of Kenya’s violence has been losing a minimum foreign exchange earnings of US$84,000 (equivalent to 94.08m/-) on a daily basis in terms of park, transport and accommodation fees.
Key hotels operators in Tanzania’s northern tourism circuit, Serena Group of Hotels and Sopa lodges with a combined capacity of accommodating 1,120 tourists at a go, are the hardest hit. They claim to lose 170 guests daily.
General manager of Serena Group of Hotels and Lodges, Salim Jan Mohamed, puts booking cancellations from his hotels and lodges to 75 everyday. “The situation is alarming. With capacity of accommodating 500 tourists at a go, now the booking cancellations robbing us 15 to 20 percent of our tourists everyday” he said in a telephone interview.
In practical terms, Serena Group of Hotels and Lodges is losing out a total of 75 guests on daily basis.
Meanwhile, Sopa Lodges group reservation manager, Louis Okech, has a similar version. “We get 10 to 15 percent cancellations out of our fully capacity of 620 tourists everyday.”
As it stands now, Sopa Lodges is currently suffering a loss of 93 tourists every passing day and they fear the number may go up if the Kenya’s situation is not stabilized.
Managing director of Bushbuck Safaris Ltd, Mustafa Panju, was also dismayed as safari inquires from tourists abroad have slumped at deadly proportion.
According to Panju in peak season like now, they used to receive between 30 and 40 safari inquires per day, but now the number has declined to between four and five.
“Major American and European tour agents stopped sending clients to Tanzania due to the Kenya’s controversial election aftermath, dealing a blow to the nation’s main source of foreign exchange earnings,” Panju said.
One of the largest American based tour agent sent an e-mail to Bushbuck safaris Ltd, stating: “I am hearing that there is a shortage of supplies and food in Tanzania now because of Kenya’s tribal violence…is that just a rumor or?”
Panju said the violence in Kenya should be a waking call to Tanzania to create its own tourism networking abroad. “It is very strange that when things go wrong in Kenya, Tanzania’s tourism trade suffered simply because many tourists coming to Tanzania, especially the northern regions are disembarking in Nairobi” he noted.
Panju thinks that Tanzania should promote itself as a tourist destination and not as a package of East African region.
The message that “Tanzania is a different destination and it has nothing to do with Kenya’s tribal violence’ should be communicated overseas,” he stressed.
“Tourism stakeholders need to engage themselves in a roundtable discussion with the government to strategize on what sort of measures should be taken to minimize the impact of the Kenya’s violence in our Tourism industry” he suggested.
The managing director of Matongo Adventure Tours, Nashon Nkhambi, also not spared with an intolerable loss arising out of Kenya’s violence. He lost three largest groups of tourists.
For his part, the managing director of Sunny Safaris Ltd, Firoz Suleiman, estimates that six to eight groups of minimum 16 tourists cancelled their trip to Tanzania due to trouble in Tanzania. “Tanzania government should put incentives in places to attract international Airlines to land directly in our airports instead of Jommo Kenyatta International Airport,” Firoz explained.
It is rather cumbersome for tourists to spend five hours of driving from Nairobi en-route to Tanzania, where they also have to pay extra cost of visa amounting to US$50 in Kenya.
It is estimated that about 40 percent of about 700,000 tourists visiting Tanzania annually pass through Kenya and then cross overland into the country.
The figure was much higher in the 1990s (66 percent ), but has gone down due to increased direct flights from overseas to Tanzania, especially to Julius Nyerere and Kilimanjaro international airports.
Tourism is one of the key economic drivers of the country’s economy, second only to agriculture. Figures show that from 2006, tourism made up 17.2 percent of the country’s GNP.
Worldwide, tourism in Tanzania has leaped up 12 percent since 2006, now reaching approximately 700,000 tourists.
Kenyans came face to face with the ugly side of general elections on December 30, 2007 when simultaneous violent demonstrations erupted across the country following the announcement by the Chairman of Kenya’s Electoral Commission, Samuel Kivuitu, that the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, had won the presidential elections which were largely described as flawed and falling below the internationally accepted standards. Nearly 600 lives have since been lost and more than 2500 families displaced in the aftermath.
There are growing fears that if the violence continue unabated, the turnaround that the East African economy recorded in the past three years, the growing business confidence, escalating tourism arrivals, progress in firm level productivity, gains in democratic development, could all be wiped out.