If you’re budgeting a trip to Tanzania, remember to add at least another $37 USD in taxes for your cheap wooden souvenirs.
The tax, aimed directly at tourists, levies a minimum of 68,400 TSH ($37 USD) for inspection and export permits on wood carvings at all border points, says the Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources and the Tanzania Forest Services.
In a letter delivered to the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) last month, Tanzania Forest Service’s Edgar Masunga also states that if fees are not paid, officials will seize the carvings from tourists.
“Many visitors have left their gifts at the airport due to a lack of relevant documents,” says Masunga.
TATO CEO Sirili Akko says he’s not aware of any tourists having their purchases seized and says the order came as a surprise to them.
“We are asking for clarification,” says Akko, who says that it’s unclear when the order is expected to come into effect.
“It’s an inconvenience and it will stop tourists from buying,” says Akko, noting that tour operators are already advising their clients not to buy any wood products.
Akko says preservation of forests is very important, but wonders why stronger actions aren’t taken against large scale charcoal and logging activities instead of threatening the livelihood of small scale craft operations.
“This hurts the people in the villages making carvings with their talents and affects thousands of ordinary people.”
The order has not gone over well with visitors, who wonder if every suitcase will now be searched on exiting the country — and how border officials will estimate the value of goods which are often purchased without receipts.
“They are just asking the wrong people to pay for their pathetic forestry practices,” says one traveler on the travel website Tripadvisor.
“This is crazy,” says another, “Instead of taking off some taxes in the tourism industry, they are now adding more. Instead of trying to make this business stable, they are now killing it.”
“It’s a pity,” says a third, “I used to carry such carvings as gifts for my friends … which is obviously not an option anymore. The feeling is that the Tanzanian government doesn’t welcome tourists.”
“Not only will tourists be punished, but it will put many artists and craftsmen out of business. A sad day indeed,” says another.