Tanzania is finally stepping up to tackle bogus tour operators that are siphoning millions of dollars from the wallets of unsuspecting tourists.
The Permanent Secretary of Natural Resources and Tourism Ministry, Major General Gaudence Milanzi, said unscrupulous tour operators are not only damaging the country’s reputation overseas, but also creating unfair competition to complying players through investigation to unearth all bogus tour operators.
“The whole idea is to mete out severe punishment against the false tour operators to serve as a lesson to others with similar mind,” Maj. General Milanzi warned.
Tanzania is home to over 1,401 tour companies, official data shows, but there are as few as 517 formal firms complying with the law, with the rest waylaying unsuspecting tourists to prey on them.
Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) Arusha Regional Manager, Mr. Faustine Mdessa, said 1,203 out of 1,401 tour companies had a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), but barely 517 were complying both fully and partially.
This means that there could be 884 briefcase tour firms operating in Tanzania. Going by the Tanzania Tourism Business License fee of $2,000, the country’s Treasury loses $1.8 million to the bogus tour operators annually in the form of licenses alone.
The Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Sirili Akko, said, “Those who don’t comply do not only steal from us all, but also create unfair competition to the industry.”
The TATO chairman, Mr. Wilbard Chambulo, on the other hand, declared that his organization would no longer take responsibility for tourists who face challenges in their transactions with non-TATO member companies.
Of late, there have been serious cases, with some amounting to substantial fraud, involving tourists who have arranged their trips with non-TATO members.
“We have swiftly acted to rescue all victims in good faith and on humanitarian grounds for the sake of protecting destination Tanzania in the past,” Mr. Chambulo noted.
“For instance, we assisted some victims in recovering money and sending [it] back to them in their respective countries,” he said. TATO has also covered costs of accommodation, transportation, and meals for several days for other victims.
“It is in the best interest of TATO to see tourists using credible companies for their best experiences in Tanzania,” he insisted.
Curtis Crawford, one of the victims, who had successfully recovered his money through TATO, urges foreign tourists bound for Tanzania to research outfits they choose.
“I had a terrible travel experience with a Tanzanian tour operator (name withheld). I warn other tourists not to use [a] bogus tour operator,” Crawford told eTurboNews when emailed to comment on the issue.
“The man who helped me get my money back from the tour operator was Sirili Akko, CEO of TATO,” he recalled, admitting, however, that the Tanzanian guides, porters, and cooks were knowledgeable, professional, and hardworking.
Tourism is Tanzania’s largest foreign exchange earner, contributing an average of $2 plus billion annually, which is equivalent to 25 percent of all exchange earnings, government data indicates.
Tourism also contributes to more than 17 percent of the national gross domestic product (GPD), creating more than 1.5 million jobs.