(eTN) – Although the recent riots are now a thing of the past, they also left some intense concerns among tourism stakeholders on the spice island of Zanzibar where many investors fear any repeat could irreparably damage the industry for years to come, a development with devastating consequences according to a regular source from the island.
“We make about 75 percent, if not slightly more, from tourism income, as far as our foreign exchange earnings go. The balance comes from cloves and spices we export. It shows how big tourism has become for the economy here. And then, through direct, secondary, and tertiary employment, more than 2/3 of the adults in a working job are benefiting from tourism in resorts, restaurants, the tour companies, taxies, guides, and those working for suppliers, farmers delivering produce, fishermen selling their entire catch to the resorts, and more.
“These riots caused a lot of worries, because the same group last year fired up some restaurants and bars. Thankfully, everyone in tourism worked hand in hand this time and tourists were kept in the resorts, but imagine something might have happened, we would be hung out to dry by the international media. Or government here on the island and from the mainland must do what they can to prevent any future outbreaks of such random violence and church burnings.
“I am Muslim as you know, but we respect the Christian religion. We take them as the people of the book, reading the same sections of their bible as we read from the Koran. Most of us have absolutely no issue with churches or other religions; we are tolerant and have peacefully coexisted for very long. But a few hotheads, trying to use sentiments against the central government have tried to spoil our reputation and that we must resist at all cost,” a regular source wrote to this correspondent yesterday following an address, finally one is inclined to say, by the island’s President Ali Mohamed Shein on a range of issues.
He was quoted to have specifically made reference to the island’s tourism industry when he said at the opening of the “Tourism for All” Conference: “Everyone has a role in promoting tourism. It is our leading foreign exchange earner. We need [your] views for promoting tourism, and we can promote tourism and still safeguard our culture, norms, and religious principles.” President Shein was quoting that in his estimate, some 70 percent of adult Zanzibaris have jobs as a result of tourism and that the island was earning as much as 80 percent of its foreign exchange income from the sector, while most of the foreign investments were centered on the tourism sector through resorts.
Several speakers at the one-day conference, attended by government officials and private sector stakeholders, made presentations on the opportunities the industry was creating and the need to preserve culture, heritage, and history on the island to showcase to visitors. While a representative, according to the source, from the Anglican church, which saw three churches burned in the recent riots, appealed to tourism stakeholders to advise tourist visitors of sensitivities and to respect local culture and customs, like during the forthcoming holy month of Ramadan, a representative from the Muslim Iman Association raised not only eyebrows but renewed suspicions, when he demanded that peace was to be kept by police and security organizations, too, who should stop beating innocent civilians, ostensibly making reference to the reaction by security to the recent riots, when rioters were harshly dealt with before producing them in court to be charged with a range of crimes. Also present were the directors of the Zanzibar Tourism Commission and of the Zanzibar National Museum, also seeking stakeholder input to the question of the way forward for Zanzibar’s tourism industry.