bears. Full inbound flights carrying tourists, vans heading to national parks and increasing number of hotels.
This is a scenario that was unimaginable two years ago after the Covid-19 outbreak, followed by worldwide travel restrictions.
With the lifting of restrictions and the sharp increase in arrivals, new fears have been created; are we prepared for the influx?
Tourism stakeholders in Arusha, the destination of over 70 percent of tourists visiting the country, have mixed feelings.
While some acknowledged instances of inadequate accommodation, others say the country has always been prepared for the dollar to bring guests.
“It’s not necessarily a flux. It is high season and business is back to normal,” said Oscar Lyimo, a tour operator.
He said most of the foreigners who have now sampled various tourism knowledge across the country have made their reservations in 2019 and 2020.
“Some were paid payments in 2019 before Covid,” he explained, noting that they were in place to honor their bookings. Mr Lyimo, the director of Arusha-based Red & Yellow Barbet Safaris, acknowledged the lack of rooms in some areas.
This is most pronounced in the country’s most popular destinations such as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti National Park.
He said the lack of rooms was a challenge for investors to build more hotels in high-traffic areas.
Tented camps are among the most preferred in the Serengeti because of the flexibility to accommodate many guests.
Andrew Malalika, director of Jackpot Safaris, said the influx of visitors following the lifting of travel restrictions was a blessing.
“The message is clear. Tanzania remains a top destination; a favorite place to visit globally,” he told The Citizen.
Apparently, the sudden increase in visitors caught some operators off guard because some were closed after the pandemic.
However, he noted that it is not surprising that the northern tourism circuit has a shortage of hotels for guests.
“We need to invest more in hotels and houses. There are not enough sleeping nights in the ‘bugani’ (plains full of animals),” he said.
A bed night is a measure of a given person’s occupancy of a bed for one night. It is a hospitality industry term for quantifying bed occupancy compared to standard room occupancy.
He called for aggressive marketing of tourist attractions in the southern county in order to reduce overcrowding in the north.
“All tourists who come to Tanzania think of the Serengeti,” Mr Malalika said, noting that Mkomazi, Saadani and the recently opened Nyerere National Park should be marketed.
He added that the increase in tourists came at a time when the quality of the roads within the national parks is in poor condition.
“The roads used for game drives within the Serengeti and Ngorongoro are in a pathetic state and uncomfortable for tourists,” he said.
A tourism promotion officer with the Tanzania Tourism Board (TTB) in Arusha played down claims that the country was not ready for visitors.
“We are all prepared. Our facilities may be overcrowded due to last-minute bookings,” said Mr. Ian Mwaimu.
He said most tourists visiting the country were from traditional markets, particularly the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
“Many of them made their bookings during the lockdown and some in the last six months or so,” he clarified.
The last-minute bookings are made by tourists from Germany, France and Spain, who, he said, are not necessarily aiming for high-end hotels.
He added that the utilization rate in the city of Arusha has increased in recent days, a sufficient sign that the sector is recovering quickly.
However, Mr. Mwaimu insisted that most tourists, like other visitors, remained keen on “pocket-friendly” accommodation facilities.
This has led to an increase in the number of guest houses called ‘homestays’ in which guests stay with several families in the city.
Arusha hotelier Walter Maeda said the increase in tourists was an eye-opener to the quality of local staff in the industry.
“Our guides are not well trained. The youngsters have been randomly selected because of the increase in visitors,” he told The Citizen.
He cited instances where 1,000 tourists landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) and were taken into the bush without properly trained guides.
Mr Maeda, who is the chairman of the Arusha Chamber of Commerce, blamed those who claimed there were not enough hotels in Arusha.
“We have countless hotels and houses on the outskirts of the city; tailored for tourists.
“The others are in Usa, Tengeru, Karatu and in the bush. Tourists don’t necessarily sleep in the city,” he stressed.
Other stakeholders interviewed wondered what was being done to enable Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) to play its role in promoting tourism.
“ATCL should partner with global carriers to bring in tourists. We have capacity (enough aircraft) but we are still not fully utilizing them,” said an industry player.
Tanzania tourism on the rise
The rebound is most pronounced in Tanzania, where tourist arrivals this year are expected to rise well above one million in two years’ time.
In 2019, before the killer virus reared its ugly head, foreign tourist arrivals in the country had reached a record 1.5 million.
Read: TTB explains why tourism bounced back quickly after the pandemic
As congestion eased in traditional tourism source markets, the numbers fell sharply to just 622,000.
Last year, the figure had risen to just over 900,000 visitors, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.
Read: Economy on the rebound in 2021 amid Omicron variant fears
Signs that arrivals will approach 2019’s record of 1.5 million visitors are no longer a guess.
Between January and July this year, Tanzania recorded 742,133 visitors, representing an increase of 62.7 percent from the corresponding period last year, when 456,266 visitors were received.
The number of tourist arrivals last month was 166,736, compared to 81,3017 arrivals a year ago.
Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope after the government announced a sequel to the ‘Royal Tour’ called ‘Hidden Tanzania’ which is said to focus on the promise of the southern county’s tourism wealth.