Arusha. Fleets of tourist vehicles grounded, empty hotel rooms and reduced international arrivals tell it all. The impact of coronavirus, a highly infectious disease now ravaging the world, has hit Arusha hard, the country’s tourism hub.
“This is the worst crisis to hit our tourism sector for years. But the worst thing is: we don’t know how long it will last,” lamented Mr Andrew Malalika, a tour operator.
But the director of the city-based Jackpot Tours and Safaris believes the government can still intervene and salvage the situation.
“The government can intervene by scrapping some taxes. This can enable us to manage the situation and restore the sector,” he argued.
He said tourist arrivals have sharply dropped because the major tourism markets for Tanzania have been badly hit by Covid-19.
These include the United States, the leading source of visitors to Tanzania, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and France. A hastily-convened meeting of tour operators on Wednesday discussed how the tourism chain in revenue has been hard hit.
“Even if it (the disease) stops now, it will take a long time to recover. The best recovery plan is to reduce the tax burden on us,” he told The Citizen. Mr Malalika, who is a member of the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (Tato), said he lost 16 clients last week due to cancellations.
He also appealed to the government to close the country’s borders so as to restrict the entry of people from countries most affected by Covid-19. Mr Paul Madinda, the general manager of the imposing Palace Hotel, said for the first time the eight-year-old hotel had no guest yesterday.
“We had eight guests who checked out on Wednesday,” he remarked, attributing the havoc to the global pandemic.
The 200-room hotel near the iconic Clock Tower is a favourite destination for business travellers and officials of the regional and international organizations.
Dr Eliamani Laltaika, a university lecturer, said although Tanzania has not closed borders like other countries, tourists still could not get in due to the lockdown in Europe.
“America is our major market but the tourists coming to Tanzania have to pass through hard-hit Europe,” he pointed out. The university don said Arusha, in particular, has been gripped with uncertainty because it is largely dependent on tourism.
An official of the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC) reached said some meetings have been cancelled but could not give details. Unconfirmed reports say a reputable tour company has sent on a compulsory leaver all workers due to massive cancellation.
Others are said to have refunded tourists who had paid their bookings in advance as is the norm.
The East African Business Council (EABC), a regional organization based here is another casualty of Covid-19 which has been reported in three of the six states in the bloc.
It has called off the Industrialization Business Convention and CEO Round Table Breakfast Meeting which was to take place in Dar es Salaam on March 30 and March 31, this year.