by Paul Harrison
Tourism renewal throughout 2018
Tourism is the main contributor to foreign exchange receipts for Tanzania, making up over 15% of GDP. According to the Bank of Tanzania, tourism brought in $1.22 billion of revenues in 2018, making it the second largest earner for Tanzania in GDP terms. The government is well aware of the significance of the industry and has been taking steps to diversify the product and the demand.
Indeed, Tanzania’s efforts to attract more tourism revenues have yielded fruit over the last eighteen months or so. According to reporting by the Bank of Tanzania, visitor numbers rose to 688,252 in mid-2018, up from 567,761 in mid-2017, a rise of 21%, as reported in the Guardian newspaper.
Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Dr. Hamisi Kigwangalla is pushing for two million visitors to Tanzania by 2020 by increasing the number of tourism products but also the number of nationalities visiting. The Minister has, according to press reports, described Russia as a “new frontier”. The Chinese market is also being actively sought. For the time being, the United States and the UK are the two main markets for Tanzania, alongside Kenya if you include volumes of entries across the Namanga border. The Tanzanian Investment Centre is actively engaged in attracting new tourism industry investment from emerging markets like China to provide sufficient products for emerging Asian demand.
According to the Citizen newspaper, the minister disbanded the Tanzania Tourism Board (TTB) in late January 2019 for being slow and ineffective. It was subsequently reinstated under a new management team. The Minister has been pushing for digitising the system, which has been slow in development and the TTB is under pressure to update itself and its offer.
Diversification of the tourism product will require a boost for the south, which though long-talked about, has yet to come about at the pace the country would like to see. ‘Southern Circuit’ destinations being promoted include Ruaha, Katavi, Mahale and Gombe Stream national parks. Efforts to reinvigorate the southern protected area estate need to continue to avoid reliance on the northern circuit and greater efforts at bringing tourism dollars into the lesser known game reserves. Currently only northern circuit national parks like the Serengeti and Kilimanjaro are profitable, the rest being, in effect, subsidised.
The government is aware that the southern circuit needs considerable promotion, and Tanzania and the TTB will likely want to move away from the tagline of “Tanzania: Land of Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar and the Serengeti” to show case the remaining parks and associated landscapes. Many great southern circuit destinations are being missed by this approach of marketing only the north, rather than taking a more holistic approach such as the “Incredible India” marketing campaign.
Tanzania has had to rise above numerous criticisms in the international media and from certain bilateral partners over its handling of the Selous hydropower scheme, to prove that the majority of the Selous as a protected area will be able to continue to be protected. Criticism has been put that the new hydroelectric dam will lead to significant environmental damage in the existing game reserve through logging and disturbance to wildlife populations, and downstream, such as through various impacts on the drainage system of the Rufiji basin and associated riverine ecosystems.
Nonetheless, clearing of the miombo woodland for the new hydropower site in the Selous game reserve has taken place, with preparations underway now for initiating the dam development, the project having been formally inaugurated in July.
President John Magufuli has been keen to emphasise that the majority of the Selous as a protected system, remains and will remain protected. Indeed, the President has gone further through announcing that the most popular part of the Selous, the northern section, will be upgraded, likely to be called “Nyerere National Park”. The south will remain as a game reserve and hunting licences are in the process of being reissued with new bidding rounds for some concessions underway.
The subject of hydropower has not been limited to Selous and Stiegler’s Gorge alone, as Tanzania has been negotiating with Kenya about halting the proposed construction of a set of dams along the Mara river. This has been an ongoing discussion and it is not clear how serious the Kenyan proposals are.
In the Selous area, the proposed Nyerere national park falls in line with a spate of upgrades to the protected area system as part of the tourism drive. The national park system has risen from 16 to 21 parks of late with the addition of new game reserves in the north west, namely Ibanda, Rumanyika, Birigi, Biharamulo and Kimisi. If the tourism products can be developed in the new sites and well marketed, they will offer significant new potential for further growth of the sector, though there is a risk in the short term of the new parks weighing down the system further.
The rise of interest in tourism by the government is also extending to cultural sights, with new government investments in the Olduvai gorge visitor experience. More investments are needed in other sights, however, such as Kolo, Kondoa, and Kilwa Kisiwani, to continue to diversify the cultural tourism portfolio.
Meanwhile, according to the Citizen, a nine-year-old boy, Advait Bhartia, known fondly by locals as simba mtoto, or little lion, has recently climbed Kilimanjaro, summiting on 31st July 2019. He is perhaps surprisingly not the youngest, that prize going to a seven-year-old.
Taking nature conservation more seriously
Perhaps in recognition, at least in part, of the tourism potential of Tanzania’s natural resources, government attention on the security of natural resources has been on the rise. Wildlife enforcement efforts have been on the rise with a joint task force between the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism and law enforcement agencies getting results from intelligence operations and some significant arrests.
There is, as a result, positive news in the world of elephant conservation, with numbers rising again in the country after their brutal persecution in recent years, particularly in the Selous. However, with rising elephant numbers, as the animals start to feel more relaxed away from wilderness areas and head to park boundaries and into public lands, the incidence of human elephant conflict is now a significant problem across many parts of the country, from the Selous to the western Serengeti, amongst other places. Tanzania can be expected to seek financial support to engage with local people to effectively tackle this.
The government is aware of the difficultly of community engagement in conservation, with different forms of participation possible through marine, forest and wildlife management. There may be cause for further simplification of the policy structure to make it easier for communities to manage and benefit from the wild flora and fauna around them. The conservancy model is one option that may be considered, which has been utilised in Namibia and Kenya with some success.
Some positive news is arising in the world of forestry too, with Chome nature reserve reporting a growth in canopy cover following donor investments and new community forests set up to take advantage of sustainable trade of selected hard wood species using Forest Stewardship Council certification.