With an area about four times the size of the United Kingdom, Tanzania's tourism industry has immense potential. Natural attractions including spectacular scenery, historical and archaeological sites (for example, the Olduvai Gorge and other sites where traces of the earliest man were discovered), abound. Parks teem with wildlife, there are unpolluted beaches, and the rich cultures of the 120 ethnic groups.
The southern and northern highlands boast a number of impressive mountain ranges, typically rising 500m to 1,000m above their surroundings. Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru in the northeast are ancient volcanoes rising to 5,895m and 4,500m respectively. The Relief is characterised by Equatorial to Arctic vegetation (passing through near tropical rainforest, savannah grassland, semi-arid to arid, semi-desert, temperate, moorland, alpine desert to the permanent snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The coastline is over 804km long with the nearby Islands of Unguja (also known as Zanzibar), Pemba and Mafia. The Islands offer an array of natural, cultural, historical and archeological attractions. Other natural resources are Lake Victoria, the world's second largest lake and the source of the Nile. In the many game parks and reserves, wildlife roam about free.
The wildlife resources are among the finest in the world. They include, in the north the Serengeti plains, the Ngorongoro Crater, Mount Kilimanjaro, and Lake Manyara. In the south, the Selous Game Reserve, Mikumi, Ruaha, Gombe Stream, Mahale Mountains and Katavi national parks, and Ugalla Complex.
Currently, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, the Olduvai Gorge, Kilimanjaro Mountain, Lake Manyara, and other sites commonly known as Tanzania's Northern Circuit constitute the country's most popular tourist attractions.
Other tourist attractions, include the white sandy beaches north of Dar es Salaam and around Lindi in the south, the exotic "Spice Islands" of Unguja and Pemba, and the excellent deep-sea fishing area at Mafia Island. Along the Indian Ocean coast are the remains of the ancient settlements. Tanzania also offers interesting arts and crafts, most notably the Makonde sculptures and carvings crested in ebony.
Yet despite its massive natural wealth, Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has not fully exploited the potential, including its tourist industry.
For almost three decades since independence, tourism was given a very low profile. Its efforts were focused on conservation per excellence. The National Tourism Policy was progumulated in 1991 to promote the industry. This goes some way to explaining why the country's tourism industry is tiny compared to its neighbour Kenya, which hosted about 850,000 visitors last year, against Tanzania's 290,000. In 1995, Tanzania tourism earned about US$ 205 million - 30 per cent of GDP. "Tourism is already the third source of foreign exchange after coffee and cotton," explains Hatim Karimjee, chairman of the Tanzania Tourist Board. However, plans are afoot to make it the country's number one earner by the end of the century, with the help of foreign investment. There are no limits to foreign ownership, although joint ventures are particularly welcome.
"We're desperately trying to avoid mass tourism. Our target is to reach 575,000 tourists by 2005, after which we'll try and slam the brakes on by putting prices up," says Karimjee. Tanzania aims to increase tourists' per capita spending from $700 to $1,200. "We also need to increase the number of days people stay here, and one of the ways to do this is to increase the diversity of the product, by developing the southern part of the country, the coastal areas the lakes and cultural tourism.
Tanzania is well placed to offer a range of multi-destination, multi-activity holidays. A group of German travel writers who visited the country in January called it 'the best positioned holiday destination in eastern and southern Africa', but said it would not achieve its potential until it improves its 'poor communications'. They criticised the quality of the roads leading to National Parks, conservation areas and beaches, and singled out the appalling state of the main road from Makuyuni to the Ngorongoro Crater, along which 280,000 tourists travelled last year. When it rains, local buses, lorries and tourist vehicles are frequently stuck in pools of mud.
Tour operators certainly want to see the road improved, and soon, if only to reduce the wear and tear to their vehicles. The Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) is urging the government to address the problem, and newly appointed Minister for Natural Resources & Tourism, Dr. Juma Ngasongwa, is keen to help. After experiencing the Ngorongoro road for himself last year, he is committed to its improvement. "As a stopgap, I have instructed the TANAPA (Tanzania National Parks Authority) and the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority to pool resources to repair the worst parts, and this will happen before June," he says. In the longer term, a number of options are being investigated, including making it a toll road. The road to Ngorongoro is just one of hundreds of unpaved roads in Tanzania. In fact, only 3,600 kilometres of the highway network are paved. This is not necessarily an obstacle to the type of low-impact, high expenditure tourism Tanzania is keen to develop. It would rather tourists flew by small charter aircraft to remote wildlife areas, many of which already have suitably located airstrips.
The Ministry of Tourism has commissioned a $70 million Tourism Infrastructure Project, funded by the World Bank, to see what can be done quickly to improve things', while a longer-term Tourism Master Plan backed by the European Union promises to root out many remaining obstacles to fully exploiting Tanzania's massive tourism potential.
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