3 February 2012

Tanzania Boosts Safari Tourist Trade

With national parks such as the Serengeti, nature-filled craters, mountains, volcanoes and paradise-like islands, Tanzania is one of the world's top destinations when it comes to animal spotting.

This has not always been the case.

In the past people have favoured countries like Botswana and South Africa. But over the years, Tanzania has been viewed as a rather peaceful place and the tourism industry now accounts for 10 per cent of the country's income.

The boom in tourism has helped improve many facilities in Tanzania and Joseph, who has been a Safari guide for over 10 years, says he has noticed how some drastic improvements in infrastructure have affected his job.

"We use to have old land-rovers to go on the safari. The roads were extremely bad, but these days they work most of the time and there is a piece of road from Junction Makuyuni to Ngorongoro which is now "tarmacked," he says. "It used to be very rough. We were driving four hours to Ngorongoro gate but these days it only takes an hour."

Irishman Rory Egan moved to Tanzania in the early 2000s with his Tanzanian wife Pamela. Together they set up a Safari lodge business in Karatu, a small town situated not far from the Ngorongoro crater. When they initially moved to the area, it was more of a road with a few houses on each side.

Nowadays you can find small clothes shops, internet cafes as well as bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Although safaris are now a little more comfortable, a holiday in Tanzania for foreigners can be expensive with the average day on safari costing at least 150 euros.

Rory says Tanzania is not a budget holiday destination and that people are often a bit surprised when they realize their package is quite expensive. "What they don't realize is that a very large portion of it goes directly to the parks and that is venue for the Tanzanian government and in that sense it's not such a bad thin," he explains.

The entrance fee to a national park for foreign tourists is around 40 euros not counting the cost of hiring a car/driver, petrol, food and accommodation. Despite the expense, many foreigners will save up for the once-in-a-lifetime experience. Tanzanians are not so keen and Rory Eagan thinks this is a market that needs to be promoted.

He would like to see more policies from the government create an awareness among people of the attractions that are there. "You start seeing it a little bit more... Like I've been into the parks some times and you see school buses and school tours going in and all the little kids are going in to enjoy it" he says. "They have it nicely done in terms of the fees. I think it's only like a dollar for a Tanzanian to go and visit a park. Their fee structure is correct for them but perhaps the awareness isn't quite there yet."

One tourist attraction that might not be expected from a peaceful country like Tanzania is hunting which is legal in some game reserves where a percentage of the animals can be killed every year.

Although he and Pamela don't provide such tours, Rory says it is a top- end holiday which no longer exists in neighboring Kenya: "It's a sort of millionaire's luxury sport. They pay top dollar, very high fees to maybe go on a short one-week trip. Part of the package is they'll want a designated animal like a lion, an elephant or a Zebra."

The people providing these tours make a lot of money as does the government who leases out the blocs of land. And because many sides benefit from the trade, it will be very hard to do away with it quietly.

Safari guide and animal lover Joseph says a right balance has to be found: "As a conservationist, I won't encourage that but talking in terms of improving the economy, you can still allow it but not to the extent that you destroy your own environment because of the cash, because there is always a future. So we need to discourage the hunting trips."

Although the idea of people mounting the head of their latest kill in their house may seem a little old fashioned, the trade can be useful in a way says Rory: "The only positive thing is that perhaps in those areas where there might be no control of the game or management of the game...there may be some management through the hunting industry."

While killing leopards and elephants may tickle the fancy of some very rich people... Tanzania's main attraction remains its abundant flora and fauna.

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