Tanzania: Infrastructure Challenges Haunt Tourism in Zanzibar

ZANZIBAR has made tremendous strides in tourism industry, identified as a priority sector to meet its development goals.

With the application of workable plans, and policies, Zanzibar has been able to make significant progress in developing and managing its tourism sector at least in almost in the past decade. According to government data, tourisms contribute more than 80 per cent of foreign exchange in Zanzibar, and created direct employment of above 60,000 people.

In 2018/2019, the number of tourists to Zanzibar surpassed 500,000 figure. The visible success in boosting tourism here is attributed, in general perspective, to improving advertisements abroad, security guarantee, accessibility to tourists attraction sites, and government's commitment in seeing that tourism grows.

Improving tourism infrastructure (roads and increasing high class hotels-5 Star) to support an increased stay of tourists, improving services, positioning Zanzibar as ecotourism destination, and private sector to provide first-rate levels of service, and continuing conservation of the environment are added reasons behind tourists' boom.

The government through its 'Tourism Commission' the Ministry of Information, and the private sector have been working closely to widen adverts in emerging markets (particularly China, India and Middle East) and also market Zanzibar as peaceful destination with virgin beaches.

But despite the efforts to improve tourism industry, there are areas that require more input of the government as mentioned by some investors in the sector. The Zanzibar Association of Tourism Investors (ZATI) has repeatedly asked for general improvement of environment for smooth business operations in the country.

The latest concerns raised by an Association of Italian Tour Operators (ASTOI- Confindustria Viaggi) over business environment in Zanzibar, has prompted the government to promise further action. ASTOI brings to Zanzibar about 150,000 tourists from Italy annually.

In a meeting which involved senior officers from the Italian ASTOI and the Zanzibar Government led by the Minister for Information, Tourism, and Heritage Mr Mahmoud Thabit Kombo, they discussed on how to solve the challenges in the tourism business.

The delegation from 'ASTOI Confindustria Viaggi' led by the brand director Mr Franco Campazzo and 'Neos Air Italian Charter' officer Ms Antonella Balestra mentioned challenges they face while in Zanzibar Ms Balestra argues that for over 25 years now charter flights from all over the world are landing in Zanzibar and the number of visitors has grown significantly while available facilities have not.

They said on arrival at the Karume International Airport the visitors tired from an eight to nine hours of flight are immediately let down by the long time it takes to complete immigration process.

"It gives an image of total disorganisation that sometimes penalizes the whole holiday and denies the possibility especially if it is elderly passengers the possibility of choosing Zanzibar again as a holiday destination," said Ms Balestra.

"Sometimes we imagine 400 persons forced into an area that can accommodate a maximum of 150 people, with over 30 degrees of temperatures waiting for a stamp that sometimes is not even put on the passport, creating further inconvenience upon departure."

On several occasions with elderly passengers it was necessary to resort to a doctor and in some cases to hospitalisation due to the very high temperatures inside the airport upon arrival without air conditioning. We need improvement at the airport as soon as possible, she tells authorities in Zanzibar.

"Imagine in January European passengers who leave perhaps with sub-zero temperatures from Italy or France or Germany and arrive finding 35 degrees with changes of almost 40 degrees. The same situation occurs at the immigration check-in desks where people are crammed into 600 people in a room of waiting that should accommodate a maximum of 200. "This, it certainly does not make the work of tour operators easy this situation and this disservice should end."

Road Practicability: The discomfort continues from leaving the airport to reaching the hotel where the patience and optimism of a happy holiday is put to the test by the terrible conditions of the roads to be travelled. Holes such as craters and stretches of dirty road where cars venture and vans that run at crazy speeds and that frighten arriving guests a lot.

Consider that the additional hour of transfer after nine hours of flight and at least two of waiting at the airport to finally beable to say that you are in Zanzibar.

The drainage system is poor as it takes 20 minutes of heavy rain for everything (roads) to be flooded and if it happens during the excursion of customers in the city they are forced to move in 20 cm of water with sewage and waste of every fate.

Waste disposal: The situation is really very worrying and the most alarming fact is that the only initiatives that are carried out are from private individuals who organise garbage collection days on the beach turning the Island in the car, you can see hundreds of open landfills where trucks continuously throw all sorts of solid and liquid waste (exhausted oils).

Above all, by filtering the soil, they will inevitably end up polluting the island's aquifers, making the water from the wells undrinkable or unusable.

Security on the island: Every year, especially in the low season, cases of theft occurs with bandits who enter the armed structures and in and in most cases seriously injury to anyone they come across. Often these bandits are armed not only with knives but also with rifles or pistols that they do not hesitate to use.

Every year cases are more and more frequent and police posts are isolated and in most cases they have no means of getting to the accident scene and you have to go and collect them at the police station to transport them to the hotel or to the house where the attack took place.

There are limited or no night patrols in areas with high concentration of tourists and this makes the evening outings of our guests forced into the hotel practically impossible for fear of being attacked or disturbed by people often in an evident state of alteration due to alcohol or drugs.

Invasive presence of beach boys: Another exponentially growing phenomenon is the presence of beach boys at the beaches in unimaginable numbers (even 50 of them, stationed on the beach in front of the Hotel). They make frequent attack to tourists who go for swimming!

There are also scenarios in which these beach boys follow customers (tourists) who bathe or dressing, to sell excursions and more. These vendors (beach boys) do not have licenses and permit to transport customers and regularly when something happens instead of giving assistance they run away leaving the customer at the mercy of himself.

The hotel is often forced to intervene to assist customers who have had problems with beach boys. Even in this case there is absolutely no police presence patrolling the beach, driving away the unauthorised vendors.

Constant pressure from the tax office (ZRB TRA): In recent years, the tax burden has been accompanied by strong and disproportionate pressure by state tax officials, which are making our job very difficult.

It starts from the misconception that it is not the market that makes sales prices but that it is discretion of those who exercise tax controls.

In response to the concerns, the Government authorities, promised to spare no-effort in ensuring that business and investment environment is favourable for all investors, and that the existing challenges in the archipelago will soon turn to be issues of the past.

"We are fully committed to end the challenges you face in your tourism business. Already measures are being taken as we need a favourable environment," said Mr Kombo at the meeting held at the Ministry, Kikwajuni Street.

Flanked by officers from Immigration, Tourism Commission, Airport, Zanzibar Revenue Board (ZRB), Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), and Permanent Secretaries: Information, Tourism and Heritage, Ms Khadija Bakar, and the Planning and Finance Mr Khamis Mussa, the Minister Kombo promised the challenges be addressed. Kombo said there is ongoing huge investment of over 200 million US dollars to improve Zanzibar airport which include expansion, construction of new terminal, runway and airport apron.

"Most of the main roads are under construction with improvement of drainage system, and waste management is being considered, while the police are taking measures to guarantee security in all tourists' attractions sites including at the beaches," Kombo said.

But the Planning and Finance Ministry PS Mr Mussa welcomed further discussions on how to end mistrust between the investors and tax collectors (ZRB and TRA), suggesting increased awareness/education on taxation.

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