JGI roundtable with Tanzanian First Lady highlights ecotourism in Tanzania

One of the world's poorest countries, Tanzania, boasts unparalleled natural beauty and an awe-inspiring diversity of wildlife. How to exploit Tanzania's unique assets and manage a burgeoning ecotourism industry while protecting its precious natural resources and ensuring that local communities benefit in meaningful ways?

A Tanzanian delegation including First Lady Salma Kikwete explored these questions with an array of experts from the nonprofit, government and private sectors during a roundtable discussion organized by the Jane Goodall Institute and the Woodrow Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program on Thursday, Sept. 21.

With its unmatched wealth of wildlife and natural attractions such as the Ngorogoro Crater, Serengeti wildlife, and Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania is poised to become one of the leading destinations in Africa for tourists interested in wildlife, anthropology, breathtaking landscapes and unique cultural experiences. "Tanzania's tourism industry sells itself," said Fred Nelson, a Doris Duke Conservation Fellow at the University of Michigan who worked from 1998 to 2005 with the Sand County Foundation Community Based Conservation Network in Tanzania on developing locally managed ecotourism ventures.

Already tourism is a critical part of the Tanzanian economy; it is the second-largest growth industry and by 2001 it represented 10-15 percent of GDP. The Tanzanian government has set a goal of increasing visitors from about 600,000 to 1 million by 2010.

Linked imperatives
For ecotourism to succeed in the long run, Nelson said, villages outside of protected areas such as national parks must be committed to conservation of the resources at their door. Conservation goals, the growing tourism industry, and rural poverty alleviation are "nested within each other," he said.

Managine Director of the Tanzanian Tourism Board Peter Mwenguo agreed, saying that communities would not be prepared to conserve if they did not benefit from ecotourism. Richard Kaguama of the World Bank's International Finance Corporation argued that communities must have a stake in ecotourism businesses, not simply receive the benefits of improved village economies. One successful model, said Judy Oglethorpe of the World Wildlife Fund, is Namibia's "communal conservancies," which empower local communities to manage and sustainably exploit their natural resources. These conservancies are transparent and invest communities with control over decision-making, she said. There are more than 30 local conservancies around Namibia.

Tourism must also be seen as a value, said Lelei Lelaulu, president and CEO of Counterpart International. Studies have shown that tourists are more likely to return to destinations if they have a meaningful encounter with local people, and therefore it's critical that local people are part and parcel of tourists' experience. "People are your major asset when it comes to tourism," he said. "We want your best and brightest Tanzanians to see tourism as a first choice [of livelihood] and not as a last resort."

Potential barriers
In terms of barriers to expanded tourism, Tanzania will have to address a conflict between the existing allocations of centrally managed hunting concessions – many of which are long-standing – versus other more lucrative and locally managed tourism ventures such as photographic safaris, said Nelson. In some areas currently, hunting concessions preclude other types of tourism and inhibit community participation.

Another significant barrier, said Mr. Mwenguo, is lack of easy air transportation to Tanzania, especially from the United States. Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete hoped to secure a deal with a U.S. carrier soon, he said.

"The Challenges and Opportunities for Expanded Ecotourism Development in Tanzania" was held at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on Sept. 21.

Enhancing opportunities for eco-tourism growth in and around the Gombe National Park is an integral component of JGI's Greater Gombe Ecosystem Program (GGE). GGE is an ambitious five-year initiative to conserve biodiversity in western Tanzania and ensure a future for chimpanzees through improved community welfare.  This program builds upon 10 years of experience with the TACARE community-centered conservation project.

 

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