WORLD Bank recent reports that Tanzania is the global leader in tourism attractions in Africa, making it the ideal destination for tourists from around the world, sparked off a heated debate at the ninth meeting of the tenth parliament about contribution of the tourism to the national economy.
But one would ask whether the country is really getting its fair share of tourists that suit its richness in natural resources and attractions.
The answer to this question, according to the Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Lazaro Nyalandu, is NO.
Mr Nyalandu told the National Assembly that the number of tourists visiting the country per annum remains very low at an average of 800,000 per annum. "In the period of five years (2006-2011) Tanzania received 4,498,589 tourists.
Out of these there are some who toured the country more than one time perhaps in different destinations and may have been recorded more than once," he said. The minister says the number is not worthy of being proud of for a country rich in natural resources and tourism attractions like Tanzania.
He said the number of beds available in the country was one hindrance compared to other countries, adding that Tanzania still lagged behind in the area and efforts were been made to address the matter. "In the Kenyan coast of Mombasa and the Island of Lamu there are over 28,000 beds which are more than twice the beds in the whole of Tanzania which has 15,000 beds.
This is a setback and we would like to do something about it," he said. He added that the number of all beds in Tanzania is almost equal to the beds available in the capital of Kenya, Nairobi, alone. In reaction to the information, Mr Zitto Kabwe (Kigoma North- Chadema), said it was through advertisement and improved service that the country would reap its fair share in the sector.
"Sri Lanka which is as small as the Lindi Region in Tanzania receives an average of 800,000 tourists per annum, it is a shame for a country as big as ours to remain behind in this bracket," he said.
The recent move by the government to review the boundaries of Gombe National Park located in his constituency, giving it a bigger land from the previous 33.74 square kilometres to 56 square kilometers, he added, would only make sense if efforts are made to increase the number of tourists.
The National Assembly agreed to expand the Gombe National Park established in 1968 and located in the basin of Lake Tanganyika to include the shoreline said to be favourable place for baboons to relax from where tourists can see the natural beauty. Mr Nyalandu noted that already the government through Tanzania Tourism Board (TTB) was making efforts to sale abroad the tourist attractions available in the country.
He said that studies have it that by 2014 China will be the largest producer of tourists, overtaking the United States of America by far. The prospect has therefore drawn efforts to sell the country's tourism destinations in China.
The deputy minister also noted that the government would improve air transport to ease movement from one place to another to attract tourists, who call in the country to visit as many destinations as possible.
The government has also been challenged in this meeting to take seriously the work of protecting wild animals from poachers, who have been killing animals especially rhinoceros and elephants to benefit from the lucrative illegal trade of tusks.
In this regard, the Minister for Tourism and Natural Resources, Ambassador Ambassador Khamis Kagasheki, said government was committed to ensure that these animals which are in the danger of extinction are protected.
The Shadow Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Peter Msigwa (Iringa Urban- Chadema), charged that it was high time the government came up with measures to protect animals against poachers.
Mr Msigwa went ahead to accuse the government of being floppy in dealing with poachers, saying poaching especially that of elephants had reached alarming proportions and suggested that the government should focus more on protection of the mammals instead of seizing poached ivory.
"The recent seizure of ivories in Hong Kong, China believed originated in Tanzania is a shame and this is another indication that we have been outsmarted by poachers," he said. However, Ambassador Kagasheki said: "We are investigating reports that a container full of ivory from Tanzania was seized recently in Hong Kong, China. We'll use DNA tests to establish the origin of the tusks."
He noted that information received so far showed the tusks passed through Tanzania in transit from an unknown origin, adding that investigations would also be carried out to establish identities of custom officers, who were on duty at the Dar es Salaam port on that particular day.
Stakeholders in the sector are worried that the act of naming Tanzania in various incidents of elephant poaching through various ivories being seized locally and abroad, will be the biggest stumbling block to the country's bid to sell its huge ivory stockpile.
International conservation organisations contend that there must be in Tanzania well-coordinated syndicates that have demonstrated great capacity of repeatedly shipping out large quantities of ivory and which should be regarded as a national security issue.
The government announced recently that it has reapplied to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to sell over 101,005kg of its ivory stockpile valued at over $55.5million (about Sh88.8billion), saying the money would be used to fund anti-poaching operations.
According to Mr Nyalandu, it has been a critical and tough task to deal with poachers who are engaging automatic machine guns in poaching activities.
"Poachers are being pushed by the high prices of ivory in the world market now standing at between 1000USD and 1100USD per kilo. We would like to call upon good citizens especially those bordering national parks to collaborate with our officers to make the war against poachers a success," he said.