Terror warnings hit Zanzibar economy

As Western countries last week warned their citizens travelling to Zanzibar of possible terror attacks, Tanzanians say tourism on the archipelago has already been affected, even though no attack has occurred.

Tanzanian police say security has been increased, but complain of a lack of any "concrete" information from international security agencies that would help them with preventive investigations into suspected terrorists.

"During the day, we have armed guards and at night we have patrols inside and outside the hotel as well as other internal measures," explains Maringa Mugo, the manager of the Serena Hotel in the heart of Zanzibar's historic Stone Town. "But yes, there has been an impact on bookings and we have begun to receive the cancellations."

A week after the warnings were first issued, the extent of these cancellations is only just becoming clear.

"We are seeing severe cancellations on current and future bookings," Issa Mlingoti, an official from Zanzibar's Commission for Tourism, told IRIN. "Some hotels are telling us of over 50 percent cancellations, while the travel agents are telling us that their charter flights are coming to take people home, but are not bringing any more visitors, so we expect the Italian resorts to be empty very soon."

Mlingoti said the situation was becoming "very, very serious" and predicted the islands would suffer enormously as tourism brings in over 25 percent of their foreign currency earnings.

However, tourists already on Zanzibar, which is famous for its pristine white beaches, spice industry and history as an Arab trading port, do not seem greatly concerned by the warnings.

"Yes, I did know that the US and the UK governments had issued warnings but they only said that people should be careful, not that they should not come," Jens Kristoffsen, a 21-year-old backpacker, told IRIN. "People don't seem that worried, but we have spent most of our time in the north, on the beaches, where there is little that they could bomb anyway."

Observers agree, however, that these latest warnings will have a devastating effect on the Zanzibari economy, which, since the collapse of the clove market, relies heavily on tourism and has already been hit hard by the effects of the El Nino phenomenon, election-related violence, and several cholera outbreaks.

Since receiving the information about possible attacks, Khalid Idd, Zanzibar's Police Commissioner, told IRIN he had posted uniformed and non-uniformed security personnel to guard hotels and beaches, intensified security checks at airports and seaports, and stepped up the physical screening of baggage and the profiling of passengers.

However, police sources in Dar es Salaam have complained of a lack of cooperation from the countries responsible for issuing the warnings.

"When we ask them [intelligence sources] to give us everything that they have, they don't seem to give us the full picture. There is nothing concrete and, as a result, we are not looking for any particular people or group," a senior police officer told IRIN.

"They are putting us in a difficult position," he said.

Likewise, diplomatic representatives on the island have expressed surprise at the warnings, saying that they had not received any information regarding the matter, prior to the announcement's being published in the media.

There is a slightly increased police presence on the streets of Stone Town and security at the port appears to have been tightened, but some Zanzibaris feel that it will take more than just law enforcement to protect their island.

"We need a collective effort from the government and its state organs, but also from the opposition and society in general," suggests Ismail Jussa an opposition Civic United Front official. "We need to tackle this together and internal politics should be put behind us for the sake of national interests."

"Just to patrol the streets is not enough of a preventative measure - these people have shown that they can disguise themselves as ordinary members of society. We shall see if the government will involve all of the population. We lack the technical expertise, therefore we should rely on our goodwill," he said.