Mbeya, May 28, 2024 – While touts in some regions are criticized for harassing passengers at major bus terminals, the situation in Mbeya is quite different. Here, they have become a lifeline for travelers arriving at the main bus terminal.

These touts not only help passengers find buses but also assist them in locating guesthouses in the region. Speaking at various times, young people engaged in this activity, like Frank Khatibu, shared insights into their work.

According to Khatibu, who has been a tout for six years, their earnings depend on the room rate. If a client pays for a room priced at 15,000 Tanzanian Shillings, the tout earns 5,000 Shillings. Similarly, for a 10,000 Shilling room, the tout earns 2,000 Shillings.

Addressing how they attract clients despite the presence of many touts in the area, Khatibu likened their situation to the numerous shops in Kariakoo, each selling similar products. He highlighted the need for differentiation to survive in the competitive market.

Through their work, Khatibu explained how he sustains his livelihood, including paying taxes and sending money to support his grandmother in Sumbawanga, who raised him after his parents passed away.

Similarly, Manase Maginga shared his experiences, noting that sometimes passengers arriving at the terminal inquire about lodging options, presenting an opportunity for the touts to assist.

However, Maginga clarified that the touts predominantly promote guesthouses located near the main terminal. They might guide passengers to other accommodations only if specifically asked or as a gesture of goodwill for helping with luggage.

Jaziu Juma, a leader among the touts, emphasized their commitment to ensuring passengers’ comfort and safety. Currently, there are over 300 touts working at the terminal.

Juma outlined the penalties for misconduct, including fines and temporary or permanent bans from the terminal. Despite this, he highlighted their collective support during personal crises, such as illness or bereavement, where they pool funds to assist affected members.

A guesthouse manager, Frank, acknowledged the touts’ contribution to business, especially given the terminal’s high foot traffic. He described how a diligent tout could earn up to 20,000 Shillings a day, often receiving their commission promptly.

Passenger opinions about the touts vary. John Issack from Rukwa appreciated their help, especially for first-time visitors like himself, while Nuru Shkunzi from Morogoro found them bothersome due to their persistent approaches.

Responding to inquiries about the touts’ status, John Nchimbi, the Director of Mbeya City, clarified that they are not a nuisance but rather business intermediaries between bus owners and guesthouse managers.

Nchimbi expressed interest in potentially formalizing their role, recognizing its potential contribution to tourism in the city. He pledged to investigate further to determine if formalization is feasible and beneficial.