I recently reported on the detrimental impact of falling tourist numbers as a result of the recession on developing countries revenues and environmental conservation. Predictions by the UN World Tourism Organisation show falling tourist numbers in 2009 but that tourist destinations in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East can still hope for some positive growth, albeit with a much slower performance than previous years.

‘The WTO expects international tourism to be in a range of 0 per cent to 2 per cent decline and says along with the Americas, Europe will be the most affected region in terms of overall tourism results as most of its source markets are already in, or entering into, recession. In Asia and the Pacific results are expected to be positive, although growth will continue to be much slower compared with the region’s performance in recent years; the same applies to Africa and the Middle East.’

However, a recent article in ETN shows that Tanzania may lead the way in demonstrating positive tourism trends, arguing that ‘despite the global financial crunch, Tanzania Tourism is still optimistic’. The source of this optimism is its recent International Tourism Fair in Berlin, where trade visitors exceeded all expectations.

Airlines have been quick to respond to predictions of positive trends in demand:

‘Concurrent with this increase in demand is the increase of seat capacity to Tanzania by major airlines such as KLM, which is now using the wide Boeing 777-400 aircraft. Swiss International, Qatar Airways, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines and Condor have all seized this opportunity in market demand for Tanzania.’

Recent media coverage, such as that of various British celebrities scaling the heights of Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief may have played an important role in boosting Tanzania’s tourism. Responsibletravel.com reported a 1225% increase in enquiries for climbing the mountain in the first two weeks of March, when compared to the same period the previous year –  a result of the so called ‘Cheryl Cole‘ effect. Whether these enquiries translate into increased numbers remains to be seen, but the outlook is positive.

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However, can visitor numbers at a tourism conference really serve as an accurate proxy for actual future tourist numbers? Other reports suggest that hotel cancellations to Tanzania late last year were on the rise and that Tanzania had failed to follow Kenya’s example of lowering park fees for foreign visitors. Tanzania’s biggest concern is that the US, an important source of visitors to the country and a country particularly badly hit by the recession, will seriously impact the industry. Only time will tell which report is the most accurate, but let’s hope its the former.

Taking stock

According to the UN WTO, the recession provides an ample opportunity to re-assess, take stock and make necessary efficiency improvements throughout the industry:

History proves that crises can also provide opportunity because they call for substantial efforts and industry solidarity. Moreover, if short term crisis actions can be aligned with the continuing longer term global poverty and climate needs, the overall industry structure may actually be strengthened.’

Perhaps Tanzania can lead the way in doing just that….?

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