The World Bank's $150 million Resilient Natural Resources for Tourism Growth (Regrow) project to upgrade and promote the Southern Circuit is a major economic boost for a region where the potential of tourism has not yet been fully tapped.
On Monday, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan officially launched the project that could turn around, not just the tourism sector, but also provide new opportunities for general regional growth.
Granted, Tanzania's tourism has over the years flourished mostly on the Arusha-based Northern Circuit, which - for example - largely helped to contribute $2.1 billion tourism earnings from over 1.28 million tourist arrivals in year-2016.
Nevertheless, for many years now, there has been concerns that the country could be sitting on huge potential for more earnings from tourism in the southern highlands - home to several national parks (Katavi, Kitulo, Mahale, Udzungwa Mountains, Mikumi and Ruaha); game reserves (with Selous being the largest), two rift valley lakes (Nyasa and Tanganyika) and areas of cultural interest.
There is no doubt that with adequate financing to boost infrastructure and conduct an aggressive marketing campaign over the next six years and beyond, these natural assets of the Southern Circuit can increase the number of tourists arriving to the country. This in turn will increase the economic benefits and promote wildlife conservation.
According to the World Bank, Regrow is to be implemented through four components that include strengthening management and improve infrastructure in priority areas; strengthening alternative livelihoods for targeted communities; strengthening landscape management and infrastructure investments in and upstream of the Ruaha. Tourism is Tanzania's largest foreign exchange earner, and contributes about 17 per cent of the nominal GDP ($47.43 billion in 2016). Imagine what the figures will be if and when the Southern Tourist Circuit becomes fully operational as well. This is to say nothing of the Eastern Circuit (including Zanzibar) and the Western Circuit.
Heed private sector's plea
The government should seriously consider the request by the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation (TPSF) to speed up talks with prospective investors in the implementation of some major projects across the country.
Issues that the organisation raised carry weight, coming especially at a time Tanzania is rolling out a raft of measures to plug some regulatory and policy loopholes that in one way or the other have, for years, seen the country settling for less in contracts entered into with multinationals.
The TPSF is worried that the time it is taking for the government to come to an agreement with prospective investors is sending the wrong signals to potential project financiers. The feeling of uncertainty is almost certainly inevitable.
This is why the two parties have to consider speeding up negotiations and decision making. Understandably, the government, which arguably in most cases drags its feet in good faith in such matters, needs to walk consciously to avoid mistakes of the past in Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).
Going forward, though, it will be important for all involved parties to be reading from the page, to avoid misunderstandings that may send the wrong message. President John Magufuli just last week reiterated that the government is, in fact, seeking more partners for various projects across the country.