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Tourism golden goose laying ordinary eggs

Tony Zacharia  Sep 30, 2008

Consider these facts. Thailand with 64 million Thais receives 14 million tourists per year. They come into the humid and hot land of packaged and unwrapped tourism. Few of those millions who go to Phuket, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and other destinations see any wildlife. Thailand does not have thousands of large wild animals to boast of. If each of those tourists spends 100 dollars in that country, Thailand would earn 1.4 billions dollars, a modest bird's nest of eggs. They spend much more.

The land of pharaohs that is the modern day Egypt gets 20 million tourists from all corners of the world.

That is more than one tourist per four Egyptians. Egypt is the world's 38th largest country after Mauritania. It is comparable in size to Tanzania, twice the size of France, four times the size of the United Kingdom, and is more than half the size of the USA state of Alaska. About 99 per cent of the population is concentrated along the Nile River, using only six per cent of the total land area. Not much wildlife but plenty of domesticated camels.

The Maldives is a group of atolls in the Indian Ocean, about 1,200 islands, total area less than 300 square kilometres. Tourism, Maldives' largest industry, accounts for 28 per cent of GDP and more than 60 per cent of the Maldives' foreign exchange receipts.

Over 90 per cent of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. Maldives has a population of a few hundred thousand and GDP of $ 1.56 billion compared to Tanzania's 36 million people and $ 27.12 billion GDP. Maldivians are seven times richer than Tanzanians, which just shows you size does not matter.

Tourism plays a major role in the economy of Thailand and Egypt. Clearly there are some policies and practices these two countries have adopted over the years to attract business and leisure tourists. Thailand has very relaxed visa requirements. They make it easy for people to visit. You want to go to Thailand, just get on the plane or boat; you will be issued a visa on arrival. No need to find and spend days visiting an embassy. If you are from a commonwealth country, the visa is issued gratis. Egypt has low taxes.

In Tanzania, tourists can get a visa on arrival but have to spend an hour or more waiting to get the visas at the slow and hot airport. Next time they will go to another country where they can be whisked from airports to hotels in a matter of minutes to rest after a long trip from abroad.

At Bangkok airport, all major and minor hotels have desks. A visitor only needs to choose in accordance with ability to pay and level of comfort desired.

For $25-40 you can get a tour complete with a vehicle and a guide. Tour guides are trained to take tourists to places for spending money, shopping.

At Nyerere international airport in Dar es Salaam, no one is taking bookings and transporting visitors to the many hotels that are spread all over the city. There is no directory of hotel information. axi operators are only interested in how they can overcharge clients -- and none of the taxis have meter.

The information desk at the airport only tells you about planes that have landed. That information is available on the TV screens just nearby.

The city council, the tourism ministry and civil aviation managers should get together to create an easy-to-use guide. Taxis must have working meters so international visitors can be charged according to the length of the trip instead of 30-40 dollars to Kawe and Mbezi.

The same system should be instituted at Kilimanjaro and Mwanza airports. The ministry of tourism can work with tour operators to create a directory of hotels and their approximate costs, to be made available at the major airports.

Dar airport should have hotel booths like those in Sydney Australia, San Fransisco in USA, Nandi in Fiji or to a lesser extent, Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi.

Hotel accommodation in major cities and towns in Tanzania has improved tremendously in recent years.

Even Mufindi and Nzega have decent guest houses and hotels few of us have heard of. However, we must have a range of affordable accommodation inside and around Tanzanian national parks.

If we are serious about encouraging local and international tourists to visit the wildlife paradise that we have in Tanzania, we must remove barriers so investors both local and international can build two to five star hotels in Mikumi, Manyara, Serengeti and Selous. Kenya with far fewer animals and much less park land has hotels right in the vicinity of the wildlife. Yet prophets of doom keep Tanzanians chained to our backs, scared to build just one hotel inside the 14,000 square kilometres of the Serengeti. Who are we protecting? The Kenyan tourist maybe.

Many Tanzanians who can afford it would willingly travel to Mikumi or Manyara to view the game with their families. But driving back and forth can take six hours or more which leaves little time for the actual tour of the national parks. Not all international visitors want to spend hundreds of dollars on the five star hotels near Ngorongoro and Manyara national parks.

The Tanzania investment centre should be facilitated to work with relevant ministries to attract investors in the hospitality industry within the tourist attractions.

Most tourists the world over do not really spend their dollars looking at lions and elephants. Tourists want to rest and relax in the comfort of clean beaches. Tanzania has like 1,500 kilometres of beaches from Tanga to Mtwara and beyond. In Dar es Salaam the beaches are closed off by wealthy persons instead of being public property. Have we heard of Diani beach in Mombasa? It is full of hotels from one end to the other.

We must convert the beach from Oysterbay to Bagamoyo into a series of four and five star hotels so that visitors from Brazil to Japan can dance the samba and drink banana wine. Tourism is a major source of jobs for the young and young at heart.

Meetings and international conferences contribute significantly and directly to promoting and enhancing tourism earnings. Tanzania must have benefited greatly both directly and indirectly from the recent Sullivan summit in Arusha.

The move by the government to construct multi-purpose conference facilities in Arusha and Dar es Salaam should be highly commended as a necessary step in the right direction. Now government and the private sector must widen the partnership so that medium and small conference centres are built in more cities in Tanzania. Mwanza can certainly be the business and tourism centre of Africa's Great Lakes region.

If we want our tourism goose to lay golden eggs, we must feed it with gold dust of policies and practices. The responsibility to make tourism hot cake does not really lie with ministry of tourism but elsewhere in trade and industry, local government, public safety and even lands and urban development. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. There is a lot of work to be done.

Tourism golden goose laying ordinary eggs


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