Tanzania’s Tourism:Growth and sustainability

Posted on February 3, 2016 12:14 am

United Republic of Tanzania is famous for its beautiful landscapes, lush green national and game parks and traditional Arab-African culture. Attracted by this global reputation,the country has long been a tourism hotspot, pulling in millions of holiday makers ever year raking in billions of dollars. However, striking the balance between economic growth and sustainable development is proving to be a serious challenge for the United Republic of Tanzania government.Tourism is big business in Tanzania. Over 2 million tourists visited in 2015 according to preliminary figures available. The latest figures official figures to be published in an Ministry of Tourism report will show that the average expenditure per person is US$618, with an average stay of just over one three weeks. This is big money when you consider that over 40 million Tanzanians still scrape by on just $2 a day.Tourism contributes 12.1 percent to United Republic of Tanzania’s GDP and employs 15 percent of the workforce. Tourism provides much needed jobs and growth, and is therefore strongly encouraged by the regional and national government. The Tanzanian government has gone to great lengths to push the tourism industry forward. It features as one of the future key drivers of national economic growth, as laid out in the government’s economic master plan, which seeks to propel United Republic of Tanzania into the top ten African economies by 2025. As per 2015 figures, the country is poised to become East Africa’s largest economy by 2020.The government also has a standalone Ministry of Tourism, with a full-time sitting minister. Multiple national and local agencies have been setup to promote tourism and draw in holiday makers.

Tanzania’s national tourism office promotes “Wonderful Tanzania” around the world, through international promotional fairs and a global advertising campaign. Local regions, such as Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Lindi, Bagamoyo, Mwanza among others also run their own organizations.Domestic tourism is growing very fast thanks to a fast rising middle class in the country. The Tourism Information Center, based in Dar Es Salaam,the commercial capital, promotes local tourism, such as Zanzibar’s local tourism industry as well as an array of other regions. Zanzibar and the rest of United Republic of Tanzania are pushing ahead in the hope of even greater success. Beyond the gleaming hotels and crystal waters however there is a dark side to this economic prosperity. Zanzibar is becoming increasingly commercialized. Large areas of previously pristine spice farming are being concreted over to make way for new construction and development. This is threatening what makes Zanzibar so special; it’s beautiful environment and traditional culture. Ironically, by embracing tourism and making way for new development, Zanzibar may push away the very tourists it hopes to attract. Also, the crowded and congested destination cities like Dar Es Salaam are a stark example of what can happen if development is allowed to go unchecked from large-scale urbanization, international fast food franchises and booming western dance music simultaneously coming out of an array of bars and clubs. Good facilities and good fun, but not particularly Zanzibar.

Mt Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Tanzania in a photo I took several years ago in Maili sita, Moshi
Mt Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Tanzania in a photo I took several years ago in Maili sita, Moshi

Should this development continue unchecked, United Republic of Tanzania is in danger of becoming a characterless relic of its former self, replacing the greenery and ancient Arab-African culture, Indian temples, with new temples of bland western style consumerism. The United Republic of Tanzania government has in more recent times begun to realize the dangers that unchecked development might bring and is now putting greater emphasis on the environment and sustainability. Building rules and regulations have gradually been tightened and the development criteria expanded. A local expert I spoke to recently told me that building heights should be restrained by a rule stipulating that no new buildings can be taller than the tallest palm tree in Zanzibar. This, he argued will help to maintain a semblance of a relaxed village feel in most areas. In the past decades, Zanzibar government has on several occasion issued decrees banning new buildings in already developed areas, to prevent future concrete jungles. Efforts are being made during the development to minimize environmental damage by building large swathes of the highway over the sea like Kigamboni fly over, although despite these efforts, hectares of mangrove forest is still being cleared in different parts of United Republic Tanzania coastal region. What has changed from the past however is that minimizing environmental damage has become a prominent feature in Zanzibar’s new developments. Previous plans for relieving congestion involved large mainland Tanzania infrastructure projects that would have caused even greater environmental devastation.Lessons from the past have begun to be taken on board, however imperfect current solutions remain to be.

In terms of local sustainability and economic growth, parts of Zanzibar have proved that the two can go hand in hand. The quiet and relaxed touristy town of Stone Town is a case in point. Famous for its traditional culture, Stone Town has balanced sustainability with economic growth remarkably well. Arts and crafts shops, galleries and local goods dominate the streets in Zanzibar. Restrictions on international franchises and overly commercial development have allowed the local economy and the local people to thrive. In the Kilimanjaro region of mainland Tanzania, the local government has taken a tough line on tourism development. Businesses wanting to develop hotels in the region need to meet strict environmental and sustainable principles to gain a license. This includes training and hiring local labor and conserving the environment.This also works in tandem with rural farmers, who rely on agricultural land to survive. This has not deterred investors, but has made them take a more considered and thoughtful approach to their developments. Further still, this has made local villagers more amenable to their presence. Sustainability can go hand in hand with economic growth. The United Republic of Tanzania’s government’s latest tourism policy has taken on board these environmental and sustainable principles. It has realized that tourism has to be developed in a sustainable way. Current government policy is based on four noble principles. Tourism must be pro poor as advocated by the country’s founding father Late Julius Kambarage Nyerere, pro growth, pro job, and pro environment. The challenge for United Republic of Tanzania will be making this policy a reality.

Contador Harrison