MOROGORO, TANZANIA - Tanzania's move to reopen the country to tourism has been welcomed by many in the industry. However, some tour operators worry that the government's lack of candor on the extent of COVID-19 infections will keep foreign tourists away.
International flights and parks were closed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, bringing foreign tourism to a halt.
Tanzania's Mikumi National Park — which attracted around 50,000 tourists last year, about 40 percent of them foreigners — is seeing visitors slowly return after the government in May allowed flights and tourism to resume. Howver, most of those visitors are locals.
"We come to Mikumi to ... refresh from the quarantine," said Yaasir El-Haaq, a Tanzanian tourist. "Just to have a bit of fresh air so we come here for a weekend."
President John Magufuli in May declared Tanzania had defeated the virus — a claim that health experts and the country's neighbors dismiss.
Dozens of Tanzanian truckers have since tested positive for COVID-19 at Kenya's border, while Tanzania has refused to release coronavirus infection figures since April.
Nonetheless, Tanzanian authorities say this is the right time to open up for tourists.
Minister of Natural Resources & Tourism Hamis Kigwangalla says his ministry is observing all the preventive measures.
In Tanzania, "the number of cases, hospitalization, and death has completely (been) going down over the past few weeks," he said. "And ... we have put in place all the necessary measures for prevention and control of the spread of COVID-19 in the country."
But not everyone in Tanzania's tourism industry is convinced. Some say the government's lack of honesty with coronavirus infection numbers could keep visitors away.
Raymond Kisasembe, managing director of Patriot Tours & Safaris Ltd., worries because the tourism sector depends on customers from outside the country.
The tourism industry accounts for about 17 percent of the Tanzania's gross domestic product.
While opening to tourists could bolster the economy, how Tanzania handles the pandemic could have a much longer-term effect.