Impact of COVID-19 on Tourism – Interview with Tanzania Association of Tour Operators
About Tanzania Association of Tour Operators Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) was established in 1983 to foster the interests of licensed tour operators. These interests include carrying out lobbying and advocacy for and on behalf of its members as well as coordinating public and private sector partnerships. TATO undertakes and publishes research on concerns within the tourism industry and operations. Additionally, disseminating this information to its members and relevant institutions. TATO offers training as well as workshops to its members along with TATO employees. Website: https://tatotz.org/ Interview with Mr. Sirili Akko, Chief Executive Officer, Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO)
1. What are the important source markets for tourism?
Depending on when you look at the numbers, African countries are among the top source markets. Pre-COVID-19 period most tourists into Tanzania came from Kenya and Burundi.
At the industry level the high-paying source markets for tourism in Tanzania are: Unites States of America (USA), Europe- United Kingdom, Italy, German Central Asia, Canada, Poland and some Scandinavian countries. The USA was the leading source market in 2019.
2. How did COVID-19 affect the tourism sector?
The COVID impact was felt most in the tourism sector because the tourism sector is integrated with people and travel and is a relatively luxurious sector. People reduce luxuries against other priorities. So, when COVID hit, all borders were closed and airlines could not fly. A destination like Tanzania mainly depends on long-haul tourists hence even those who were willing to travel were unable to. So practically, we literally were almost shut down for long-haul tourists.
3. What has been the impact of COVID-19 measures on the tourism sector?
The Government of the United Republic of Tanzania decided not to close our country (lockdown). This was one of the best decisions that supported people’s welfare and the tourism sector and kept Tanzania on world map. For the first time, Tanzania lured new source markets.
Tanzania attracted tourist from Eastern European markets during COVID-19. Eastern European markets exhibited resilience.
4. What incentive has the Government given to support the recovery and resilience of tourism?
The Government of the United Republic of Tanzania worked for hand in hand with the private sector to develop the Standard Operating Procedures for the industry and trainings, this lured more tourists to visit Zanzibar.
With support from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania set up COVID-19 sample collection centers in the national parks of Ngorongoro and Serengeti (Seronera, Northern Serengeti and Ndutu), this increased the number of tourists visiting Tanzania mainland during COVID-19.
TATO also worked with stakeholders to set up end-to-end systems to support tourists in particular ambulances, tented hospitals and agreements with domestic chartered flights to airlift tourists in case of health emergencies.
5. What are the challenges/ opportunities Covid – 19 has brought forth?
The pandemic reduced the number of tourists and sales hence also tax collection by the Government.
We also noted that the labor laws are complex and challenging, for instance, even on consensus agreements when people come together and say, okay, we don’t want to be retrenched and we are willing to stay in the company, the laws don’t allow that. Many companies were willing to pay for the health insurance of their staff regardless of whether they were still at the office or at home, but was impossible due to the laws.
We have to go back to the drawing board for some of the labour laws.
What lessons has the pandemic taught your Organisation?
For the first time, we have learned that the real person in command is actually the Minister of Health who decided who should come in and out of the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic. I think this is a new perspective and lesson altogether!
6. What genders specific interventions were done to support women amid COVID – 19?
The tourism industry leads in youth and women employment. So practical all efforts to support tourism business rebound amid COVD-19 were in furtherance of supporting women and youth. Indeed, the outbreak of COVID-19 was a challenging moment for the tourism sector including the youth and women!
7. What do you recommend the Government of the EAC Partner States do to support wildlife conservation?
Wildlife conservation in our countries is mainly funded by tourism so practically, it means if no tourism, then no conservation funds for wildlife.
Park rangers were unable to patrol the entire national parks by themselves following to closure of national parks due to COVID-19. Poachers used this opportunity to take rein in some areas of the parks as tour operators’ vehicles visiting the parks supports patrolling efforts of park rangers.
Interestingly because of no tourism, nature had a moment to regenerate leading to more wildlife.
The private sector, governament and development partners should mobilize resources to support wildlife conservation.
8. How do you think the EAC region and Africa can prepare for such emergencies in the future?
Tanzania enjoys good neighborhood relationships eight (8) bordering countries. As far as regional tourism is concerned, I think a lot remains to be done and a lot needs to be celebrated as Kenya, Burundi, Zambia, South Africa are important source markets.
The EAC region should look into the robust regional health infrastructure to support citizens and tourists. This pandemic has also challenged us to put health and business people who create employment at forefront of our policies. TATO rolled out vaccination campaigns and dispensed over 1000 vaccines to tour operators. I think it’s high time for the EAC region start to investing in a joint vaccine industry and scientific research.
This article was developed by the East African Business Council under the EABC- TMEA Safe Trade Project to build awareness of the impact of COVID-19 and recovery strategies for businesses in the EAC, through robust media advocacy.
About TMEA Safe Trade Emergency Facility
TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) created a USD. 32 million Safe Trade Emergency Facilit (STEF) to support governments to undertake critical measures along the transport and trade routes that will ensure trade continues safely while protecting livelihoods. The Safe Trade Emergency Facility components are:
- Making the ports, borders and critical supply chains safe for trade
- Ensuring food security and access to critically required medicines
- Supporting measures that reduce jobs losses and support exports
About EABC TMEA Safe Trade Project
The East African Business Council (EABC)-TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) Safe Trade Project aims to reduce barriers to trade in the East African Community through:
- Strengthening trade data tracking and analysis & rapid impact assessments on COVID-19 on businesses
- Private sector consultations and development of proposals for Public-Private Dialogue.
- Advocacy through media to build awareness of the impact of COVID-19 and recovery strategies for businesses in the EAC, through robust media advocacy.