The minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ezekiel Maige

Tanzania`s tourism policy is undergoing intensive review meant to help the country reap the most from its natural resources, a cabinet minister said in Morogoro on Saturday.

Natural Resources and Tourism minister Ezekiel Maige revealed to editors from various media outlets that “internal talks” were going on to transform the Tanzania Tourist Board into an autonomous and therefore self-financing agency similar to the Tanzania Forestry Service Agency.

He said the changes were necessary because it was simply impossible for the sector to register noticeable progress or growth without higher levels of patriotism, seriousness and public awareness as well as appropriate changes in the country’s laws and civil service procedures and regulations.

“Tanzania has excellent potential in tourism lying unexploited, and this has for long made us earn peanuts from the sector and fail to fully benefit from the abundance of forests and wild animals our country is blessed with,” said Maige.

He explained that the government has identified the major problems and challenges ailing the ministry and the agencies under it and has begun fighting to solve them by implementing a multi-pronged strategy.

He admitted, though, that the going is very tough “as some of the major investors and other players in the sector are wealthy and influential people and institutions mainly from outside our country”.

The minister gave the factors inhibiting the development of tourism in Tanzania as including high travel and other costs tourists have to incur, restrictive nature of tourist attractions particularly in urban areas, and restrictions on the building of hotels and lodges in national parks and game reserves.

Other hurdles cited are corruption and contravention of laws in areas such as allocation and use of hunting blocks, disheartenment by national park and game reserve employees resulting from lack of incentives, and the fact that some of Tanzania’s own media outlets sometimes portray the country as not a precious enough destination for foreign tourists.

“Unfortunately, contrary to what is going on in many countries with a highly developed tourism industry, Tanzania has been doing very little to promote and develop its tourist attractions. There are times our own media report sporadic cases of violence so sensationally that they frighten tourists,” he noted.

He said Tanzania’s tourism promotion budget was among the lowest in Africa while competition was intensifying, adding that this has made the government decide to lay emphasis on the promotion of mass tourism “because continuing to harp on traditional attractions such as Mount Kilimanjaro and Serengeti National Park won’t take us very far”.

Underlining the need for diversification in the tourism industry, Maige said it was wrong to assume that all tourists are filthy rich people and are interested in visiting world-famous landmarks.

He said he learnt important lessons from a recent World Tourism Organization meeting he attended in South Korea, elaborating: “Things like urban tourism can make a world of difference, but some parts of our cities and towns are endlessly dark and notoriously unsafe. Business is conducted only during daytime hours, which forces most foreign tourists visiting our urban areas to remain indoors most of the time instead of going out shopping for souvenirs.”

“The government is determined to reverse this trend, thus opening up business opportunities the Tanzanian private sector players could capitalize on. We are also determined to develop and promote our historical sites and beaches more vigorously,” he added.

However, he said he was saddened noting that the local hospitality industry was reluctant to support a planned tourism promotion fund.

He said it was strange that even putting up tourism promotional billboards at or near government-run facilities such as airports, “which clearly shows that even the public sector’s participation in the promotion of this crucial sector is abysmally low unlike in many other countries”.

The minister said it was important for Tanzanians to feel bad seeing that many foreign tourists enter the country aboard foreign flights, move around the country by foreign shuttle buses, stay in foreign-operated hotels and lodges and therefore spend relatively little money in Tanzania.

He called for closer cooperation between his ministry and the likes of TTB,Tanzania National Parks (Tanapa) and Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority in ensuring that the country’s wildlife and other natural resources become bigger money spinners contributing more handsomely to the country’s social and economic development.

Records show that Tanzania hosted some 295,000 foreign tourists in 1995, the number rising to more than 800,000 in 2009 and to over one million in 2010.

An overwhelming 76 per cent of these are said to have learnt about the country through on-line and TV advertisements or from previous visitors, and only 24 per cent from brochures found at Tanzania’s pavilions at international trade fairs.

Source Tanzania Daily News

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