Tanzania is likely to lose its tourism market share to Kenya and Uganda in the face of the global financial crisis as the country maintains‘business as usual` attitude.
Uganda was the first country in the region to lower its entry fees by 50 percent for tourists in December 2008, before Kenya had to borrow a leaf by reducing visa fees for tourists by 50 percent.
As a result, Kenya and Uganda are currently considered as the cheapest destinations, compared to other EA partner states including Tanzania with similar tourist attractions.
Apparently Tanzania`s public sector is undecided on the incentives to be offered for tourists, while the private sector has already reduced 10 to 15 percent of tourist package in response to financial meltdown.
Despite the global financial slowdown, reality is still maintaining tight-lipped style. To date the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) has made no statement regarding the kind of measures, either being taken or are underway to rescue the tourism industry.
Recent efforts by The Guardian on Sunday to get a word from the Director of Planning, Development Projects and Tourism Services with TANAPA, Allan Kijazi proved futile.
“The issue is so sensitive we cannot discuss through telephone,“ Kijazi responded recently when asked to comment on the issue of precautionary measures taken by his authority.
Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) says its members have already slashed their tourist package prices by between 10 and 15 percent as a way to encourage tourists to visit Tanzania.
“We have done our part, but it is unfortunate the public sector still maintains a go slow in reducing entry and visa fees to tourists wishing to come and sample our tourist attractions,“ says TATO Chief Executive Secretary, Mustafa Akunaay.
“It is high time for the Tanzanian authority to read the signs of the time by hatching a plan, like to lower its entry fees to national parks, in order to get a share from tourists who are shifting goals,“ Akunaay says.
According to him, Tanzania is facing stiff competition because its tourist attractions are also available elsewhere and mostly are easily accessed and are cheaper.
“Our disadvantage is that our products seem to be expensive even in the wake of the global economic slowdown, yet we don`t have a national carrier, all these factors will deny us to tap our share on the global tourism market,“ TATO boss says.
Nearly 60 percent of the total travel package normally goes to air tickets, which means Tanzania with no airline will loose over half of its revenue to the international airlines, he noted.
Akunaay was of the view that apart from lowering entry fees, Tanzania ought to reduce Value Added Tax (VAT) rate on tourism products, waive visa fees and shelve Ngorongoro Creator service fees.
“Other mitigations are to lower landing fees and ground handling charges for tourists in international flights during the recession period as a way to attract tourists,“ he stressed.
Tanzania has already trimmed its 2009 tourism earnings forecast of $1bn from 950,000 visitors, by about three percent due to the global economic downturn.
The state-run-Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) also has cut its projection of 2009 tourist numbers by the same amount.
The marketing board is yet to compile its 2008 figures, but it expects the second largest East African economy to have fetched close to $1.3bn from about 840,000 visitors.
Tourists come to Tanzania to enjoy the beaches on its coastline and the Zanzibar archipelago, the national parks such as the Selous in the southeast and the Serengeti in the north, as well as to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) late last year announced to slash entry fees by 50 percent as a way to attract more tourists who are looking for cheaper destinations.
“We want people to enjoy the natural wonders available in Uganda,“ Moses Mapesa, the UWA Executive Director announced in December 2008 before Christmas.
Uganda`s famous national parks include Murchison, Queen, Lake Mburo, Bwindi, Mgahinga, Kibale, Kidepo and Ruwenzori.
New park entry fees, allow Ugandans and other East Africans to pay the same tariff effectively January 1, 2009. Adults will be paying 5,000 and 2,500 Uganda shillings for children.
The Managing Director African Pearls Safaris and board member Uganda Tourism Association (UTA), Geoffrey Baluku, says the Uganda’s entry fees reduction is the right move to attract tourists who are scouting for cheaper destinations.
“If Uganda taps into this opportunity, revenue collection from National parks, the major tourist attraction is set to increase and new jobs created as the private sector will progressively increase investments in accommodation and eating facilities“.
He added that considering that Uganda is competing on the world market with the sole aim of penetrating it, it is necessary for emphasis to be put on quality products at competitive prices.
Looking at the Ugandan tourism sector’s performance in 2007, almost 642,000 tourists visited Uganda compared to 540,000 in 2006.
This number is considered the highest Uganda has ever experienced and thus represents an increase of almost 19 percent over the year before.
Ugandan tourism brought $449 million (Shs853 billion) into the economy in 2007 compared to $375million (Shs712 billion) in 2006.
Experts in the industry say on overall each visitor to Uganda, spends about $750 per (Shs1, 4 million) when this is translated into the country’s GDP has increased from 1.98 percent in 2006 to 2.33 percent in 2007.
Visa fees for tourists visiting Kenya will be reduced by half, starting next month (April).
The move, aimed at stimulating demand for family travel, has also seen the government scrap visa fees for children below 16 years, who are going to Kenya as tourists.
Currently, the fee is about Sh4, 000 (or $50) and could be reduced to $25. The offer will expire in December, 2009.
Speaking in Berlin, Germany, last Sunday, Kenya`s Tourism Minister Najib Balala said, the offer was expected to increase tourist arrivals by 10 to 15 per cent this year despite the current global economic crisis.
The Kenyan government recently allocated an extra Sh250 million to the Kenya Tourist Board for enhanced marketing.
The announcement of the latest government incentive is said to have been received well by participants at the ITB, which is the biggest tourism trade show in the world. It has more than 10,000 exhibitors from all over the world and over 180,000 visitors.
According to the Kenyan Bureau of Statistics, the tourism sector declined 34.7 percent over most of last year.
The Kenya Tourism Board itself estimates tourist arrivals between January and October last year shrunk 35.2 percent, from 873,000 to 565,000. Updated figures from the KTB are yet to be released.
Majority of potential foreign tourists are currently scouting for cheaper destinations, as economic crisis takes its toll, a latest World Travel Market (WTM) said.
The WTM held in November 10 to 13th, 2008 in London says nearly 65 percent of Britons are considering cheaper holiday destinations for the next 12 months in a bid to beat the crunch.
“Close to 65 per cent of Britons will be switching to cheaper holiday destinations over the next 12 months so as to beat the crunch,“ says Insurance Expert, Tower Gate Bakers, the man behind the just concluded study.
Bakers further say that the credit crunch is an indicator that the development of tourism will continue to be driven by the attitudes of consumers in the source markets.
And this might be true as local tour operators say that the financial crunch continues to sink its teeth into the world economies, forcing consumers resorting to scouting for affordable destinations.
A total of 3,310,065 tourists visited East Africa in 2007. Kenya, the region`s biggest economy got 2, 001,034, Tanzania 719,031, 550, while Rwanda recorded 40,000.
The country with a fast growing economy whose main tourist attractions include the mountain gorillas in the Virunga Hills, recorded 26,000 visits in 2004.
Tourism in Burundi is also picking up significantly, though statistics on last year`s tourists arrivals are yet to be made public. The country recorded 133,000 and 148,000 in 2004 and 2005, respectively.
While Tanzania targets to hit a million tourists arrivals in 2010, Rwanda is adjusting itself to record 50,000 tourists in 2008. If Tanzania`s target succeeds, the industry would add an extra $1.7 billion in 2010.