The devastating impact of COVID-19 on the global tourism sector is clear. For many least developed countries (LDCs), tourism is a crucial source of employment, GDP contributions and foreign exchange (forex) inflows. The restrictions on air travel, mandatory quarantine of arrivals and the shutting of businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors on top of a collapse in demand has led to an unprecedented shock.
With numerous major natural tourist attractions, Tanzania is feeling the impact. The World Bank’s 14th Tanzania Economic Update (TEU) forecasts economic growth to slow to 2.5% in 2020, from the 6.9% growth reported in 2019. Tourism operators in Tanzania are forecasting revenue contractions of 80% or more in 2020. And nationwide, the crisis could push 500,000 Tanzanians below the poverty line, with those employed in the informal economy likely to be impacted the most.
According to a Government of Tanzania study on the impacts of COVID-19 on the tourism sector, without the pandemic, the 2020 season would have attracted approximately 1.9 million tourists and generated US$2.9 billion of forex. Without the pandemic, it was expected that the government would have collected revenue of TZS 2.7 trillion (US$1.16 billion), and the sector would have provided direct employment to 622,000 people.
At sites such as the Ngorogoro crater, the Serengeti and Selous National Parks, Mount Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar, Tanzania has many businesses certified and practicing what is termed ‘responsible tourism’. This kind of tourism fosters benefits to local communities around tourist attractions and helps to minimize negative impacts on the environment.
“However, there is no responsible tourism without traveling,” said Julius Lesanoi, auditor with international certification schemes such as Travelife, Flocert and Responsible Tourism Tanzania (RTTZ).
Response to COVID-19
“Tanzania went through a very brief period of restricted movement from March to May 2020 as well as border closures and airspace bans with barely any nationwide lockdowns. Announcements and guidance by the government to reopen airspace and restore businesses with strict adherence to WHO and other sector-specific measures from June onwards was not enough to restart and sustain the original growth trend of the responsible tourism sector, since source markets and neighbours extended their border and air space closures, as well as their travel restrictions,” Lesanoi said.
This slowdown of tourism is impacting livelihoods, and has led to layoffs and unemployment.
Johannes Solar Obeto, Chief Executive Officer at Responsible Beings, said “We witnessed post-haste contract terminations of both freelance and employed staff without ample notice or specific time to resume their jobs. Some employers opted for wage reductions as a means to retain some employees. What is obvious is that life will not be the same for both directly dismissed staff or to those few that continue to receive underpayments pending return of full operations.”
“Life has rapidly transformed in cities and towns such as Arusha, Karatu, Mugumu, Moshi and Zanzibar where a great number of breadwinners, youth and others depended on the tourism sector, which is currently recording international arrivals far below minimum targets and, most times, none at all,” he said.
Since August 2020, many countries have started moving from immediate response to short-term recovery phases. Travel restrictions are now being relaxed and there are glimmers of hope for tourism businesses, particularly those in LDCs that may not have benefited to the same extent as others from supportive relief measures.
According to the latest analysis from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 40% of all destinations worldwide have now eased the restrictions they placed on international tourism in response to COVID-19. As of August 2020, tourism in Tanzania is open for business albeit with enhanced safety measures in place to protect staff and travellers, and there is no mandatory 14-day isolation or quarantine period for travellers.
In the light of countries seeking to reopen their tourism sectors, the World Bank published in July an analysis, "Rebuilding Tourism Competitiveness: tourism response, recovery and resilience to the COVID-19 crisis", that provides recommendations for short- and medium-term recovery phases.
Are efforts already being made in these areas in Tanzania and specifically in the responsible tourism sub-sector? Where could work be done to help the recovery?
The World Bank paper recommends that countries moving from response to recovery should monitor changes in traveller sentiment to understand which market segments will be the first to travel again, and what investments are required to attract more risk-adverse markets. For example, efforts may include improved health and hygiene at hotels and airports or permanent health screening at airports. It would be good timing now for the government, development partners and the private sector in Tanzania to better understand these responsive market segments and possible market opportunities for responsible tourism.
In the short term, Tanzania should continue to relaunch their destinations through ‘back in business’ promotions to key source markets, and businesses should seek to understand the trade-offs of extending discount offerings.
There should be efforts made at training and upskilling tourism and hospitality sector staff with a focus on stability and longer-term job opportunities. This will help overcome the sector’s reputation for instability and sudden job losses. For example, in Tanzania the ILO with support from Norway and Swiss SECO have in the past supported the Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources, the National College of Tourism, the Hotel Association of Tanzania and the Association of Tanzania Employers with apprenticeship and staff tourism training programmes in close partnership with hotels.
Responsible tourism standards
Tanzania is well placed by having the proactive Responsible Tourism Tanzania that helps audit and certify hotels and lodges to international responsible tourism criteria. The standards include items such as employee rights with regards to fair contracts and compensation, and minimising harmful social and economic impacts. With the government, the private sector and development partner support, more businesses in Tanzania could be encouraged to see the value of being certified to international responsible tourism standards.
Lesanoi said, “Some critics argue that the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it some fringe benefits on how much nature and ecosystems recovered following the lack of tourist activities.”
“But it is also argued that lack of tourist movement in protected areas has increased the exploitation pressure on wildlife poaching and other illegal activities. A big lesson received during COVID-19 and that should last for a very long time is actually how to embrace principles of responsible tourism that foster environmental conservation and stakeholder awareness amid struggles to sustain the economic benefits from the tourism sector.”
The World Bank paper recommends that countries should seek to diversify geographically from resorts to rural low-density destinations. In this area, Tanzania has long held a model of high-end low numbers. However, work can be done to diversify the tourism offering to spread opportunities for Tanzanians in other parts of the country to compliment the well-established destinations of the Serengeti, Kilimanjaro, Ngorogoro and Zanzibar. This has been the policy of the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism for many years and is reflected in the current and upcoming Tanzanian Tourism Strategy, however this may require development partner support to help catalyse the process due to the funding required.
According to Lesanoi, COVID-19 has reminded Tanzania’s responsible tourism sector how dependent and fragile the sector is and how movement of people is a key ingredient.
Promoting and expanding opportunities in domestic tourism in Tanzania will be crucial to building future resilience. This will also increase understanding and appreciation of core responsible tourism concepts of responsible community engagement and environmental protection among the national population.
It remains to be seen how many businesses in Tanzania will make it through if travel restrictions will be brought in again before the end of the year and tough times may still lay ahead for many in the sector.
Tanzania is lucky to be endowed with some of the finest natural tourism assets in the world – that are not going anywhere. As the world navigates its way through the global pandemic, Tanzania will remain a strong tourism destination. Much of the analytical work has been done to guide a way through the storm and the Government in Tanzania, collaborating closely with partners, can take some meaningful steps now towards short- and medium-term recovery.
On 7 October, G20 nations committed to step up efforts to have sustainability and inclusion at the heart of tourism recovery, by placing tourism at the heart of development policies in recognition of the sector’s importance for achieving the SDGs. It remains to be seen how quickly this will translate into action on the ground in LDCs such as Tanzania, but it is certainly a welcome sign.
A list of responsibly certified businesses in Tanzania is available here https://www.rttz.org/responsible-operators/
 Rapid Assessment of the Impact of Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) on the Tanzania’s Tourism Sector, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, The United Republic of Tanzania, Dodoma, April 2020