‘I have never been in this state,’ says Subeha Omar, a young tour guide from the spice islands of Zanzibar.
‘You know, there is just no work, there are no tourists coming, this is the high season, July, August, September and the streets are empty this is a disaster, I am out of work and I am not alone,” she laments and rightfully so.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating toll on the global tourism sector and Tanzania along with the acclaimed tourist destination of Zanzibar are no exceptions. According to the latest EABC report on the impact of Covid-19 on selected sectors, the East African Community (EAC) tourism sector has lost a shocking two million jobs between last year and this year August.
The report looked at key sectors including the Tourism & Hospitality Industry and the results are shocking if not downright appalling and calling for some kind of drastic action to resolve the situation. So when the out of work tour guide says she has no job she is only one of 2 million people out of work from the tourism industry in the EAC.
“It is estimated that tourism jobs in the region dropped from about 4.1 million to 2.2 million,” the report quotes East African Business Council (EABC) chief executive officer John Bosco Kalisa.
When Subeha, the ex-tour guide, says the streets are empty and it is the high season, she is actually referring to what experts in the report are valuing at a $4.8 billion loss of revenue incurred due to reduced tourist travels to the region.
According to the report, more than 4.2 million foreign tourists were not able to make their planned trips to any of the EAC tourist destinations.
So bad is the drop in the number of tourists that it is estimated that visitors to national parks declined by more than 65 per cent. Notably, the EAC gets most of its tourists from Europe, the USA and Asia, all key continents that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
If tourists are not in the streets or out visiting parks, you can also expect occupancy in hotels to have dropped equally, and it has.
“The study found that hotels in the region registered average occupancy rates of below 30,” the EABC CEO reports further painting the grim picture of what has become of the region’s tourism sector, a wounded, dying once vibrant sector that boasted the highest foreign exchange retinue compared to all other sectors combined.
With increasingly new waves of the pandemic emerging, even countries like Tanzania that had stifled off the Covid-19 effects earlier on, now the country is feeling the pain, job losses, revenue loss, by the millions.
Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and with support from the African Economic Research, the report was the result of a study carried out by the EABC. The grim picture shows that 26.5 per cent of businesses lost entire revenue projections during the last year alone, 44 per cent lost 75 per cent of revenue while another 17.6 per cent lost 50 per cent of their projected revenues.
As a result, the researchers advice EAC governments to review their tourism regulatory framework and to allow operations to be conducted remotely and increase the use of digital platforms among other options. This study is spearheaded by the private sector and among its recommendations include request to governments to issue stimulus packages and loan holidays to the sector.
While the focus of this article is the tourist sector, but the report shows the situation is non the better across multiple sectors including manufacturing, food and beverages, transportation and logistics among others.
Understanding East African Business Council (EABC)
The East African Business Council (EABC) is the umbrella body of the Private Sector in the East African Community (EAC). It encompasses several national private sector umbrella bodies that represent among other sectors the tourism, manufacturing, banking, insurance and transportation sectors.
The current membership of the EABC stands at 172 and its mandate is to represent and promote the interests of the EAC business community, provide value-added services that enhance trade and competitiveness. It is also responsible to influence legal and regulatory formulation to improve the business environment in the EAC.
Hence this latest report serves as a wake-up call to the governments of the EAC, showing just how deeply the tourism sector has been cut by the pandemic and the related control measures instituted by individual governments.
The EAC is not alone in this plight, only in July we published the stack figures that showed that prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the global tourism sector contributed an impressive USD 9.2 trillion annually, which is more than 10 per cent of the World’s combined GDP.
However, tourism fell 74% in 2020 alone costing the industry well over of USD1.3 trillion not to mention the loss of millions of jobs of which the EABC report places at over 2 million jobs lost in the EAC and over 7.2 million jobs have been lost compared to the 2019 levels.
Over the span of the last year alone, Africa lost an estimated USD 83 billion in GDP contribution, which is almost half (49.2%) of its pre-Covid-19 annual revenue levels. It is increasingly becoming evident that governments while looking for global solutions, need to invest in promoting domestic tourism, the research shows.
Consider this, in 2019, domestic tourism accounted for more than half (50.2%) of the travel and tourism receipts in the sub-Saharan African region. This means domestic tourism is a viable option to keeping the sector afloat until the pandemic is resolved.
In my previous article about the importance of domestic tourism in filling the national revenue gaps of the EAC, I quoted an article titled ‘How to revive African tourism after the COVID-19 pandemic’ prepared by Tafadzwa Matiza, Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Tourism, North-West University who said; “It’s critical now for African destinations to promote domestic tourism, which also paves the way for international tourism.”
Much remains to be seen as to how governments, around the world will respond and help their tourism sectors stay alive. But at the moment, the future looks bleak.
“I have a family, they depend on me what am I suppose to do now that tourists are not coming…I have no work, no income, the government must do something,” cries the tour guide who just lost her job to the Covid crunch, the same cry of millions in the sector.