Tanzania is right tourism doesn’t have conservation benefits

August 11, 2016

The recent uproar by tour operators, some of them greedy capitalists who hardly anything about conservation, about Tanzania government plan to tax the sector, left me wondering whether those commenting about job and business losses know anything about what huge number of tourists in parks like Selous or Serengeti does to the environment. Tourism is one of the Tanzania’s largest industries. Global international visitor arrivals exceeded 1 Billion in 2015. The World Tourism Organization estimates that this number could reach 1.8 billion in the next four years. Clearly then, deciding not to travel does not seem to be on many people’s agenda.Mass tourism is hardly sustainable, so nature-based or ecotourism is often promoted as a cleaner alternative. But as eco-tourists, do Tanzania’s annual getaways end up harming the natural environment tourists set out to enjoy.Tourists adventure actually provide some sustainable benefit for conservation and local communities in Tanzania.All tourism activities have both positive and negative impacts on the natural, cultural and socio-economic environment. In addition, the impacts also occur at different scales from primarily local, regional and nationally.Tourism currently contributes about 1% of greenhouse gas emissions in Tanzania. Much of impact arises from the travel component, primarily via car to the national and game parks. The remainder is derived from on-site impacts associated with accommodation and leisure activities in areas like Serengeti, Selous, Zanzibar etc.

Many tourists might question any link between their holiday and climate change. In reality the two are closely linked. The changing climate influences tourists choice of popular destinations such as sandy beaches of Kigamboni, Zanzibar Islands and resorts like sea cliff, but ultimately also their persistence.But, as ecotourists I wonder whether tourist demand for visiting unspoilt destinations actually benefit conservation efforts in mainland Tanzania. There is resounding support for ecotourism from conservation groups. Even so the answer is not simple but more a question of how, when and where.Conservation benefits depend to a large degree on the choices tourists make from the the destination they pick out to visit in Tanzania like Mara region, Kilimanjaro region, the travel options they choose whether flying or by tourist vans, the activities they participate in, and how the money they spend is redistributed by Tanzania National Parks Authority, commonly known as TANAPA.Indeed, for Tanzania it is the revenue generated through ecotourism that continues to support conservation activities and enrich local livelihoods.In many developing countries like Tanzania, protected areas rely heavily on tourism fees. For example, national parks in Tanzania, home of the iconic Serengeti National Park, derive almost 70% of their income from tourism revenue such as entrance fees, restaurants, accommodation, concession fees.As more private wildlife-based ecotourism operators have set up in the country, there have been significant gains in the area of land set aside for conservation purposes. For example, private reserves currently cover more than double the area of public reserves in Kenya with likes of Ole Pajeta and Lewa conservation areas.This has also contributed directly to species conservation in Kenya.

In Tanzania, operators need to deliver a wildlife experience and conserve wildlife populations because people come to these areas to see large mammals.Local inhabitants too have benefited from ecotourism especially the Maasai community that inhabits the northern west Tanzania. It has increased employment opportunities, enhanced livelihoods and in some cases empowered entire communities. Ecotourism also drives changing attitudes towards conservation. These changes are seen in the travellers themselves who take on volunteer conservation tourism, the host communities where there is empowerment of local guides and reduction in poaching, commercial operators who end up being responsible tourism operators and also in government where there are changes in legislation to support sustainable tourism.It is not all a bed of roses for Tanzania just like other countries. There is a need to address critical issues about equitable distribution of benefits and the transparent engagement of local communities. But positive steps are being made by the ministry.Tourism, and ecotourism in particular, can deliver net conservation benefits, particularly at a local level.Tanzanians try to make their tourism more sustainable by making responsible travel choices with my tour across the country having been by road. In my view, adopting the responsible tourism ethic goes beyond simply diverting environmental travel costs. Tanzania need to reduce overall impact and thats why President John Magufuli’s government recently that it would rather have 500,000 high end tourists instead of 2,000,000 who have less value to the 500,000 in terms of revenues makes a lot of sense.Overall, it is about changing attitudes and behaviours. Tanzania should minimise and mitigate potential impacts and deliver lasting benefits at tourists chosen destinations but also when they return home.

Contador Harrison