TanzaniaInvest interviewed Dr. Adelhelm Meru, former Permanent Secretary of the Tanzania Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT), to learn about the role of the Tanzanian tourism sector in the country’s economic development, the sector’s development strategy and ambitions.
Prior to his appointment ta MNRT Dr Meru was Director General of the Tanzania Export Processing Zones Authority that he led from his establishment in 2002 until end of 2014. Total export earnings from members registered under EPZA legislation have reached the USD 794 million in the last five years.
TanzaniaInvest: What is the role of tourism in the economic development of Tanzania?
Adelhelm Meru: Tourism has a very big role in the economic development of Tanzania.
Currently, Tourism is the number one foreign currency earner among all sectors of our economy.
Five years ago, the mineral sector was the main foreign exchange earner, but it was progressively superseded by tourism.
In 2014 alone tourism generated around USD 2 billion which constitutes 25% of all the forex that came to Tanzania.
Not only that, tourism is also at the forefront of the contribution to the country’s GDP: in 2014, 17% of Tanzania’s GDP came from tourism.
As for employment, around 600,000 people are directly employed in the Tanzanian tourism sector, and up to 2 million people indirectly.
So we see tourism among the significant sectors which can contribute even more to the economy of Tanzania, if properly developed.
TI: Tanzania has become a top safari destination in Africa, reaching a record 1.1 million tourist arrivals in 2014. What is the Tanzania tourism strategy for the years ahead?
AM: Our strategy is to strengthen our tourism promotion campaign.
We plan to organize several road shows, participate in major International Tourism promotion exhibitions and intensify our electronic promotion operations.
On the other hand, we are planning to diversify our tourism attractions.
In the past we have been giving much attention on wildlife tourism; now we want to go beyond that.
We are developing a new tourism strategy that will be out in mid-2016; the major focus is to ensure that we fully exploit all the tourism potentials that Tanzania has.
Such potentials will include beach tourism, cultural tourism, resort and conference tourism just to mention a few.
With that strategy in place, we are confident that we will be able to make Tanzania a tourist destination of choice in the region, thereby increasing significantly the number of tourist arrivals.
TI: What is your objective in terms of positioning within your new tourism development strategy?
AM: The strategy we are laying down will ensure that Tanzania will become the best tourism destination in East and Central Africa.
It is evident that, Tanzania is gifted to have several attractions which have not been appropriately exploited.
If we diversify our tourism potentials, we will definitely be unbeatable in the region.
Our mission is that, in a few years to come Tanzania becomes the best tourism destination in the entire African continent.
TI: Tanzania already boosts with Zanzibar one of the world’s best beach tourism destinations. What else do you aim to do in term of beach tourism?
AM: Zanzibar is doing very well in beach tourism; what we are planning to do, is to extend the good work already done by Zanzibar to be able to position ourselves very well on tourism attraction along the eastern coast of Africa.
Tanzania and Zanzibar is one country and we can only complement one another to be able to be stronger.
Our future plan is to establish a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) specific for tourism on the mainland coastline.
This will be a new dimension in African tourism as it will be a very special area, which will feature hotels, resorts, conference centers, and that will become a must visit place in Tanzania.
TI: And in relation to cultural tourism?
AM: Tanzania has so many cultural sites: Olduvai Gorge, the Ngorongoro Crater, the museums, the monuments, historical caves, old ruins and many others.
We want to make sure that we feature all these in the world map as we believe they will represent a major attraction to tourists who come to Tanzania to see other things than wildlife.
TI: How adequate is Tanzania as a tourism destination in term of infrastructure and connectivity?
AM: At a national level, we have been able to develop the infrastructure to the extent that investors in tourism that can now move their clients within the country, from one attraction to the other.
The only challenge is connectivity of tourists from US and Europe to Tanzania as we have very few international airlines that can fly tourists directly to Tanzania.
We are doing all what we can to encourage more international airlines to fly directly to Tanzania.
As a result of such efforts, Etihad is serving Tanzania from December, 2015.
At the same time, the ministry of Transport is now working to make Air Tanzania, our national carrier, able to fly to Europe and other parts of the world, this will allow us to break through and bring in more tourists.
TI: Why invest in tourism, in Tanzania?
AM: The range of attractive sites in Tanzania is comparable to no other destinations: Mount Kilimajaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world; Ngorongoro Crater is the largest unbroken caldera in the world; Selous, is the largest faunal reserves of the world; Serengeti National Park has the highest diversity of wildlife in the world; the stone town of Zanzibar has unique structures and is a world heritage site.
With all these at the country’s exposure plus many more, we see Tanzania as a destination difficult to beat in Africa.