Mbabane: The Ministry of Tourism has been allocated a sum of E80, 4 million according to the budget estimate book of the financial year 2021/22.
This amount shows an increase of over E17.2 million from the previous budget estimates of the financial year 2020/21, which was E63.2 million.
Delivering his budget speech the minister of finance Neal Rijkenberg noted that Tourism was one of the worst affected sectors through this pandemic. This come at a time when the Kingdom of Eswatini was named to be amongst the top five destinations in the world to visit in 2020.
The minister highlighted that the pandemic compromised gains achieved in this sector and slowed down the momentum we had gathered. He said government is looking at a range of programmes that would re-position the tourism sector to be able to take off the moment borders reopen.
As part of the plans Rijkenberg said the Royal Eswatini National Airways Corporation (RENAC) is looking at increasing its seating capacity in order to service increased regional demands and government is working tirelessly on the e-visa regime. “All these efforts are meant to ensure a boost in this sector once things return to normal”, he said
Worth noting is that tourism is listed as amongst the five pillars of economic recovery in the Government Strategic Roadmap 2018-2023.
With the advent of Covid-19, tourism was amongst the worst affected sectors, the World Travel and Tourism Council 2020 recovery scenarios projected that global travel and tourism have experienced losses of over $2 billion (E30.1 billion) in the best-case scenario, and as much as $5.5 billion (E82.9 billion) in a worst-case scenario.
In Eswatini tourism was also most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the beginning of Covid-19 the industry was hugely affected by the closing of boarders and lockdowns. The Chief Executive Officer of Eswatini Tourism Authority (ETA) after the lifting of travel restrictions was quoted saying the industry is targeting about 2 billion in tourism receipts. Business Eswatini CEO Nathi Dlamini was quoted saying the industry needs approximately 100 million bailout package urgently to keep the industry afloat.
It was highlighted that the sector need a bailout package or stimulus from government to resuscitate the industry.
Unlike South African counterparts, the government of South Africa was swift to react to the situation as a result, in February 2021, a 1.2 billion Tourism Equity Fund (TEF) fund was launched to support the tourism sector.
According to the South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa the fund is aimed at reviving its ailing tourism industry and will be used in particular to help black entrepreneurs start businesses and projects in the sector. Initial seed money for the fund totaling R540 million will come out of the Department of Tourism’s budget over the next three years, topped up with financial backing from the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (SEFA) and commercial banks.
“The TEF according to Ramaphosa is a dedicated fund that will provide a combination of debt finance and grant funding to facilitate equity acquisition as well as new project development in the tourism sector by black entrepreneurs.
Expectation from the 2021/2022 budget speech by the tourism industry in Eswatini was to get something positive from government as means to boost the sector something which did not happen.
The minister of finance made no mention of any stimulus or bailout package from government to boost the tourism sector.
Reacting after the budget speech in a telephone interview with this reporter the Minister of Tourism Moses Vilakati said they were grateful for the budget allocation despite that it was not what they really expected.
Vilakati said the budget was not enough for the ministry to carry its intended obligations but they will accept what they are given for now and try to work as hard as possible to achieve more with the little they got.
He said it was key to note that the whole world is fighting the Covod-19 pandemic and most government prioritizes on strengthening their health sectors to ensure they are in a better standing to fight the pandemic.
“We will try and do more with the little we have been allocated, and we will win”, he said. Vilakati said his ministry will work hard towards economic recovery, since it is amongst the five pillars of economic recovery strategy in the strategic roadmap 2018-2023.
The economic turnaround strategy in the government Strategic Roadmap 2018-2023 has five key growth sectors and these key sectors are the Information communication technology (ICT), Education, Infrastructure and Software Development Potential, Energy and Mining, Tourism, Manufacturing and Agro-processing and Agriculture.