Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania Interview

Tanzania Wildlife Tourism Overview

TANZANIAINVEST has been interviewing Mr. Lota Melamari, CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania, to learn about the Tanzania tourism wildlife sub-sector and its outlook.

TI: How would you describe the Tanzania wildlife tourism offer and how it developed?

Lota Melamari – Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania: When you look at Tanzania, with an area of about one million square kilometres, about 30% of that land area is committed to conservation- either forest, wildlife reserves, or national parks and so on- through the Land Act.

So, you can see the commitment the government has given to protect its naturalness and biodiversity.

Now, fortunately enough for Tanzania, because of that vast habitat landscape, you find that there is an unimaginable array of wildlife creatures and vegetation and this variety includes the big animals that everybody is very curious to look for.

We also have hundred of species of mammals, amphibians, reptiles and so on.

These represent amazing scenery to look at and a very big appeal for tourists that want to visit Africa.

Initially, in the 60s people were coming for the so-called safaris, which included a high degree of adventure because of the extremely limited amount of infrastructures in place.

Since then, the philosophy we adopted in Tanzania has been not to overdevelop national parks or protected areas and leave them as natural as possible. {xtypo_quote_left}The philosophy we adopted in Tanzania has been not to overdevelop national parks or protected areas and leave them as natural as possible.{/xtypo_quote_left}

We did not get many visitors back in this time, but these [visitors] started to spread the message about the quality and splendour and the amazing friendliness of the people and it gave them the confidence to make subsequent trips to Tanzania.

We also had the advantage of major filmmakers, photographers and researchers who visited the country and followed animals’ lives and documented them for more than 40 years.

Therefore, tourism was very mild in the beginning because of the conservative approach we took with very few lodges in the parks that later on, as the government changed its political approach from socialism to a free market economy, investment in the protected areas was promoted and this opened up a new dimension for the development of tourism in Tanzania.

We had the first tourism master plan to guide and to provide the vision and direction for the development of tourism in the country in the 90’s when the free market economy really started up and was consolidated.

TI:
What are the biggest challenges in developing Tanzania tourism in a sustainable way?

LM: The big challenge is, of course, to generate awareness for the players involved.

To make them understand the delicate balance between nature and the business.

This is a critical aspect.

On the other hand, of course, demand for more development is ever increasing and this has to be guided and regulated very carefully so we do not rush into it.

We decided we should work for quality tourism.

Now, sometimes tourists complain about the fact that Tanzania is an expensive destination, but they forget that maintaining the type of tourism product that we have in Tanzania is very costly to undertake. {xtypo_quote}Sometimes tourists complain about the fact that Tanzania is an expensive destination, but […] maintaining the type of tourism product that we have in Tanzania is very costly.{/xtypo_quote}

It is also true that if the prices of lodges are relatively high, it is because there are limited areas that have been developed and the country has not developed yet to its potential of the maximum sustainable development possible.

But people are now considering developing new areas such as the southern circuit as an alternative to the north.

This because we have protected areas much bigger in the south that in the north, where focus has traditionally been, partly because of the migration of animals present there and because of its proximity to Kenya and good infrastructures.

Now, the government has started constructing good roads going to the south and developing the parks that are not inferior in terms of quality and diversity to the one existing in the north.

This is where our hidden treasure is.

Now, the opportunities there are enormous and it will take pressure off of the north.{xtypo_quote_left}Hunting allows for starting up tourism activities in certain areas with enormous potential, but it is still far from photographic tourism.{/xtypo_quote_left}

TI:
Where does hunting find its place in wildlife protection?

LM:
Ideally, hunting was allowed here in order to offload pressure from the animal population in certain areas.

At the same time, hunting allows for starting up tourism activities in certain areas with enormous potential, but it is still far from photographic tourism.

At the same time, hunting is a very lucrative business.

Kenya does not allow hunting anymore because it became out of control and unsustainable, but if hunting is done following scientific principles and is carefully managed it will be sustainable.

Tanzania Wildlife Tourism Outlook

TI: Where do you see the Tanzania wildlife tourism going in the next years, in comparison to beach tourism in this country?

LM:
Wildlife will continue to be the lead product of our tourism offer and the reason for this is that our beach tourism is not well developed.{xtypo_quote_right}Wildlife will continue to be the lead product of our tourism offer and the reason for this is that our beach tourism is not well developed.{/xtypo_quote_right}

This is not because our beaches are not attractive, but rather they were not given sufficient planning.

Even the private sector did not develop adequate activities and therefore the amount of leisure which is taking place on the beaches remains a secondary activity that becomes like a springboard to the wildlife in the interior of the country.

Hence wildlife will continue to be leader for quite sometime, until the necessary infrastructure for beach tourism is in place.

For beaches activities we are not competitive yet.

TI:
How would you like to see Tanzania tourism to develop?

LM: I would like to see the tourism sector develop to seriously involve the local people in its activities.

Locals are not yet really the main players.

This is the only sustainable way, it should be a joint approach where the foreign investor is respected and protected, but where it should also engage local Tanzanians in the business.

Through genuine partnerships, know-how transfer can really take place.

This could lead to capacity building, where credit for development in tourism could eventually be allocated to local people.

If that does not take place it will be hard for local people to penetrate the business.

TI:
What is the greatest benefit that tourism can bring to this country?

LM: I think the greatest benefit is developing business capacity for the country; it is the sector where the government investments are not that heavy and money still comes in freely.{xtypo_quote_left} [Tourism] is the sector where the government investments are not that heavy and money still comes in freely.{/xtypo_quote_left}

The sector is mostly in private hands.

This represents good tax money for the government that can be used for other development.

It is also a way for Tanzania to learn from others.

It also pushes the development of other sectors of the economy and it can develop other areas, benefiting its population that would otherwise have not been developed by the government.