HIDDEN GEMS

Tanzania 2018 | TOURISM | FOCUS: SOUTHERN CIRCUIT TOURISM

Tourism is frequently described as the jewel in Tanzania's economic crown. In 2016 alone, the industry contributed over USD2 billion in revenues. However, for at least three years, the government has expressed concern that tourism is not well distributed across the country.

Indeed, of the 1.2 million tourists who travelled to the country in 2016, the vast majority visited the so-called Northern Circuit: the well-worn trails between the cities of Arusha, Moshi, and Stone Town. Figures show that Tanzania's north hosted eight times more visitors than its south and west put together. And, with an official tourism slogan that reads “Tanzania—the land of Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, and the Serengeti,” it seems that until now the country's tourism marketing strategy has been to consolidate, and not to diversify.

In a recent bid to channel the flow of tourists down south, the government, through the Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources, as well as the Tanzanian Tourist Board (TTB), is mapping an alternative route across the country. The hidden gems in Tanzania's southern topography include the Selous Game Reserve, the largest protected wildlife area in Africa; Kitulo National Park, a botanist's haven that is evocatively dubbed “the Serengeti of flowers”; and Ruaha, the country's largest national park, a rugged landmass created by geographical formations of the East African rift home to Africa's biggest elephant population.
In total, the Southern Circuit encompasses nine of the country's 16 national parks—Mikumi, Ruaha, Katavi, Saanane, Mahale, Gombe, Udzungwa, Rubondo, and Kitulo—not to mention various notable wildlife areas and mountain ranges. However, for this region to become anywhere near as lucrative as the north, two obstacles first must be overcome: limited infrastructure and a chronic lack of marketing. Surveys conducted by Tanzania's local media in 4Q2016 indicated that the Northern Circuit boasted 90 more hotels than the south and west, totaling 2,106 more individual hotel rooms. In the western region of Katavi there is only one hotel, a two-star.
Furthermore, tourism in Katavi is also marred by its network of unpaved roads. The airport serving the region, Mpanda airport, currently only services chartered flights. Limited or non-existent transport links are a problem across the whole region.
With the arrival of Air Tanzania on the scene, all this is set to change. A new route between Dar-Kigoma and Mpanda is due to open, making the whole of the western part of the country more accessible. Following a state visit by the Minister of Tourism and TTB delegates to Israel, a new direct flight between Tel Aviv and Mpanda will become operational in the coming months.
Additional support comes from the United Nations Development Program, the US Agency for International Development, and the German government. Under a government led National Resources Management project, TZS210 billion (USD93 million) has been earmarked to boost the Southern Circuit over the next six years. The southern highlands and greater Ruaha area are included in the project's targeted landscapes, and the project includes activities to develop private sector initiatives in sustainable tourism.
However, the issue of marketing still remains. The TTB announced its 2016/2017 marketing budget: a low TZS4 billion (USD1.8 million), of which TZS2.6 billion (USD1.2 million) is destined for promotion. The corresponding budget for neighboring Kenya is 20 times this figure. The TTB's annual estimated requirement in order to do justice to the Southern Circuit is TZS15-17 billion (USD6.6-7.5 million). There is also a drive to investigate the viability and push the financial potential of alternative tourism options, and experts in the field have also pointed out a tendency towards historical advertising of available tourism assets. However, with the government actively revising the 1999 National Tourism Policy, there is hope that the Southern Circuit, and its promotion, will feature higher up in the agenda. Likewise, it is hoped that a recent presidential mandate directed at the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation outlining plans for a 24-hour tourism channel will mean more coverage and more prominence for the industry as a whole.