LAND & SEA

Tanzania 2015 | TOURISM | REVIEW: TOURISM

Local tourism authorities and the private sector are aiming to make Tanzania more attractive to visitors, with over a million arriving each year to sample its natural wonders.

Tanzania's tourism industry has taken off in its own right, especially as its reputation for stability and security remain strong in the face of regional conflict as it seeks to surpass the reputation of its neighbor to the north. Furthermore, the traditional hindrances such as lack of access and infrastructure are being tackled head on. New links between Tanzania and major international airlines such as Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways, as well as the arrival of discount airlines such as Fastjet and the improvement of local airports and landing strips, are easing access to many parts of the country. Consequently, tourism amongst Tanzanians within their own country and domestic flights have seen a sharp rise.

At 44%, almost half of the country's land is dedicated to national parks or game reserves. In total, Tanzania has 16 national parks, 29 game reserves, and 40 controlled conservation areas and marine parks.

Tanzania currently attracts over a million visitors per year, first breaking the one-million-visitor milestone in 2012. According to the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB), this number could double within three years. In 2013, the tourism sector contributed $4.3 billion to the national economy both directly and indirectly according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), with the majority of tourists coming from the US and Western Europe. The tourism sector accounts for roughly 12.9% of the country's GDP, as well as 11.2% of Tanzania's work force, or some 400,000 jobs. Leisure spending outstrips that of business spending, with the former accounting for 87.8% of the market. In terms of the foreign versus domestic spending ratio, some 69.8% came from overseas tourists, with the locals making up the rest at 30.2%.

The sector has seen steady but unspectacular growth after the 2012 surge, but the TTB has set itself ambitious mid-term goals. The TTB has charted favorable strategies calculated to enhance the tourism industry's contribution in promoting national income development. Part of this strategy, according to the TTB's acting managing director Devota Mdachi, is to create a network of local information offices throughout the country and to encourage local Tanzanians to become active participants in the country's tourism industry.

S!TE

Along with other promotional work, the TTB recently held the first “Swahili International Tourism Expo" (S!TE) in Dar es Salaam. With over a thousand participants, the event was deemed a success. One of the major purposes of the event was to link the numerous small- to medium-sized players that constitute Tanzania's local tourism industry with the international tourism market. Other issues tackled by the conference include sustainability and conservation in the sector, as well as marketing-related issues.

DESTINATIONS

In late 2014, the popular Netherlands-based safari website www.safaribookings.com declared Tanzania as the world's top safari destination. The results were gathered from polling over a thousand recent safari tourists, as well as hundreds of industry experts and guides. This ranking comes as no surprise to those who know the country well, as Tanzania boasts seven UNESCO world heritage sites, with four of them in the “natural" category. These include Selous Game Reserve, which is the largest in the country, Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain on the African continent, as well as the world-famous Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Another highly popular tourist destination is the UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site of Stone Town, located on the picturesque island of Zanzibar.

Beyond Zanzibar and the oft-traveled northern tourism circuit, Tanzania is also trying to promote other large parks in the south and west of the country. However, these areas are hindered by a lack of awareness and even more prevalent infrastructure challenges.

For example, Ruaha National Park, one of the continent's largest at over 20,000 square kilometers, receives only a relative handful of visitors due to a lack of high standard accommodation and access. Recent publicity efforts from the authorities have helped push the annual number of visitors to 24,000, but this number is still only halfway to the park's goal of 50,000. To accommodate this, Ruaha National Park also has a goal of raising the number of beds from 337 to 2,000 over the next four years. Out of the existing 337 beds, none of them can be found in a five-star hotel, highlighting the importance of private sector investment in bolstering the sector's less-developed regions.

The low number of visitors is not due to any lack of natural beauty, as Ruaha National Park is Tanzania's only national park that covers both Savannah and Miombo woodlands. As such, the unique geographical combination includes a diverse 1,600 plant species and 600 bird species.

Meing'ataki said this combination has brought all animals and plant species found in Savannah and Miombo woodlands together, making Ruaha unique in that sense. In addition to plants, Ruaha National Park has more than 600 bird species, and large groups of roaming lion prides, as well as certain antelope species unique to the park.

CULTURAL TOURISM

Despite Tanzania's clear wildlife gifts, the TTB is also hoping to diversify the tourism sector so as not to solely rely on safaris. One alternative that is quickly catching on is promoting cultural tourism within the country.

The official promotion of cultural tourism from authorities in Tanzania began in 1996, focusing on Maasai youth groups in the northern tourism circuit. What started as informal dance performances has evolved over the past two decades under the umbrella of the TTB.

Now, cultural tourism is developed via a community-based approach, where the local community is directly involved in the design and organization of the tours that showcase the particular culture and lifestyles of their region. As such, equitable distribution of economic gains generated via these tours is a key factor in its appeal and success. As of today, there are over 47 Cultural Tourism Enterprises that have been established with the TTB's aid. Each of these enterprises generate income and employment opportunities for their respective local communities, helping mitigate economic losses due to rural-urban migration. Tourism activities offered by these cultural enterprises revolve around experiencing the local way of life of that particular enterprise, including traditional dances, local cuisines, home stays, craft products, community development initiatives, indigenous knowledge, historical heritage, nature walks, and local folklore.