Arusha — Only a trickle of tourists visit the attraction sites -rich Lake Natron basin annually due to poor marketing and promotion of its untapped potentials.
The vast basin, with a major lesser flamingo breeding site in the world and an active Oldonyo Lengai volcanic mountain, currently receives a measly 4,000 visitors a year.
"There is no strategic plan to grow tourism there. The attractions are many but the potential remains untapped", said Mr Lota Melamari, a consultant with the recently launched Lake Natron Ecotourism Project.
He told The Citizen on the sidelines of a meeting organized by Nature Tanzania, a newly formed lobby group based in Arusha, that the situation has been aggravated by poor transport network and tax barriers.
Tourists and nature lovers travelling to the site, some 300 kilometres from Arusha, have to go through fees collection gates mounted by the three districts bordering the basin; Monduli, Longido and Ngorongoro.
Mr Melamari, who served as the director general of the Tanzania National Parks (Tanapa) from the 1990s to early 2000s, said Lake Natron basin can attract between 10,000 to 15,000 tourists a year if well marketed.
He said although the construction of a paved road from Mto-wa-Mbu to Loliondo would boost numbers, there was need for the tourism stakeholders to take deliberate steps to promote the area.
Accordingly, discussions are underway with the three districts to have only one gate for collection of local government fees for tourists heading to the site.
Ken Mwathe,the policy and advocacy coordinator with Birdlife International said the Lake Natron basin was a 'hidden gem' for Tanzania that has not been exploited as far as tourism is concerned.
"People know about Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Selous. Lake Natron is not a park but an important wetland globally which can pull in as many tourists", he said.
It is one of dozens of identified Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Tanzania which can attract thousands of bird watchers from around the world each year.
"The 4,000 tourists visiting the area annually can more than triple if the limited facilities are upgraded", he explained, noting that the adjacent Serengeti National Park attracts 100,000 visitors per year.
Nature Tanzania patron John Salehe said the completion of the tarmac road to Loliondo could see the Lake Natron basin turning into a major tourist attraction in Tanzania, especially in bird watching.
However, he stressed the need to formulate an integrated conservation management plan for the area in order to protect its fragile ecosystem.