Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Brand Tanzania: Please Do More

According to income statistics in Tanzania, tourism is generating almost a third of the GDP. That being the case, one should expect that the government would do all it can to ensure that more tourists or the few that come spends more loot in Tanzania.

I did a little research and came up with the following website,which kind of highlights the tourism profile in Tanzania. The site talks about a few strategies to increase revenue from tourism, but it is full of generalities that do not really tell much as far as strategic actions are concerned.

I will have to dig in so more on what the allocated $70million for Tourism Infrastructure Project will do, but I am assuming it would help get rid of some of the obstacles. My worry, however, is whether the Tanzanian government is serious enough (leaving aside political promises which lack serious focus). My worry is based on the fact that we have so much theories and “mipango ya maendeleo” that have yield little results.

If someone doubts whether Tanzania is serious about tourism, just compare the number of tourists that visited Kenyan in 2005. That figure was a whopping 850,000 compared to a meager 290,000 that Tanzania experienced. That is a joke, given the fact we have more to offer.

What prompted me to write about this is a “postcard” from The Amazing Race reality TV program that I came across on the web. Please view the postcard yourself here.

The card has so much (positive stuff) to say about Zanzibar as a tourist destination, but then at the very core of it, it drops a serious bomb on the Tanzania’s seriousness on tourism. I quote:

Tanzania may be less welcoming to tourists than its neighbor, Kenya – sun is scorching and the wilderness raw – but for seasoned travelers, the country’s possibilities are endless

The quote sends two damaging messages: 1) we just don’t have an environment for tourists to enjoy compared to Kenya 2) Tanzania is for seasoned travelers. Which, means inexperienced tourists could find Tanzania less appealing.

I know folks at the Tanzanian Tourist Board or other government officials will not really grasp the impact of that card. Nonetheless, the card could either promote Tanzania, if the readers will choose to ignore the “shortcomings” part and focus on what Zanzibar has to offer or kill our chances with the American tourists. That is due to the fact that The Amazing Race is one of the most popular TV programs in the United States. According to Reality TV World, the program was able to draw about 12.5 million viewers in one of its programs in 2005.

That is huge.

I am not sure of how many people will or have actually read the above “postcard”, but given that wws.msn.com is one of the widely visited websites, the damage could be even greater and the Tanzanian government has a mountain to climb.

My point is this: perception is reality. If the American tourist is being told that Kenya is a much better tourist destination than Tanzania (without even the Kenyan government paying for the message) we have to bring our top game. We have to change our game plan to change the perception that is already out there about Tanzania as a tourist destination.

By the way, do we really know who our tourist is or we just lump him or her in one category of wazungus?


Photo: www.msn.com

9 comments:

Mbwana said...

Hey Metty,
A light hearted post at last!
First I will comment on Tanzania's tourism strategy. My opinion, is that it is sound. The plan is NOT to become a mass tourism destination like our Kenyan neighbours, attracting Americans who want instant gratification (e.g. a sign pointing to where the lions are and will be at 3pm- aka a zoo!), this may maximise income in the short-term, but has consequences for the future. Instead Tanzania is going for the niche tourism strategy, limiting no.s and ensuring they stay longer and spend more money per visit- this is the way to go, not to mention more respecting, this is important for long-term, especially when you tie this into the sustainability argument, we'll need to allocate a lot of attention to this. Tanzania has over 30% of its land protected as game reserves, we need to make sure this outlasts our neighbours game parks and provides income well into the future. One good example is on Kilimanjaro National Park- I applauded (yet my American friends were horrified), when the prices for climbing Kilimanjaro were sharply raised- we cannot sustain that mountain at the level tourists were climbing it- not too mention attracting low cost operators which inevitably means more issues related to unsatisfactory climbs, pickpocketers, quality complaints and even deaths. Our image could be greatly tarnished just by opening up the flood gates.
Another example is Zanzibar, when I was there, I was shocked to hear the Govt had imposed a $20 a month tax per tourism related vehicle on operators- on the face of it, this sounds silly- but then I realised how much less congested and free of shaddy tourism operators were in Stowntown- a frequent complaint was that tourists were literally ambushed at the stonetown ferry terminal with oneman/dodgy tourism operators! We can argue about whether the Govt could have achieved this goal a different way without taxing wanannchi trying to make a buck, but the fact is the problem had become so bad, thank god they acted fast!
We should not become a volume player, instead we should be a high-end player. Let all the mass Americans go and trash Kenya. Bring in the "sophisticated" tourists that fit our capabilities, they are typically looking for an authentic experience rather than a replicated Four Seasons hotel they can easily find in Florida or Spain. A spill over effect of having "Sophisticated" tourists, is that they often become investors, through their charity-givings, volunteering and other activities.
To support this, we need to invest in training locals to deal with tourists better, developing small yet luxurious and eco-friendly accommodation. Do people know that currently 50% of tourists visiting Zanzibar are Italian? Maybe we should think about training people to speak Italian! South Africans are a fast rising and important tourist segment- they are much closer and more likely to attract and refer others to visit and may themselves even become repeat visitors. Once a middle/low level American tourist comes to our parks, given the distance, that could be the last we hear from him/her- who would not want a more stable and respecting, reccuring tourist who understands our culture better?
Although, the postcard had an alarming note about Tanzania being "less welcoming... more raw", Metty, the RIGHT POTENTIAL TOURISTS will not miss the gems of praise on the music, dhows, affordability, exoticness, endless possibilities, "[Zanzibar] is dream"! Which I think more than makes up for the first comments- yes, send the mass tourists to Kenya- just like some buy BMWs, other like toyotas- good segmentation and differentiation is key like any other market... We should congratulate the Govt on ensuring Tanzania was included in this popular show- I actually watched that episode of the amazing race and was greatly impressed- pity they did not show off more parts of Zanzibar.
I agree that we need to spend more on our infrastructure to make it easier for tourists, bu I want to reaffirm my point- as I feel it is important-the goal is not just lots of tourists, its the right type of tourists as well- we want to be authentic and sustainable, not a one size fits-all theme park. If we are to talk about pure no.s, what about Chinese tourists that could be on the rise? That's another story.

Jaduong Metty said...

@Mbwana,
I like to do light reflections. Nonetheless, just as a matter of a judgment call, I write hardcore stuff because I feel that they are important.
Thanks for providing your perspective on the Tanzania’s tourism strategy. I must agree that limiting the number of tourists that we get in Tanzania on annual basis makes sense. We have to be in a position to preserve what we have for the next generation. That is being responsible. Nonetheless, I don’t see how the government is going to accomplish being a high-end player; given the fact for the most part what is attracting tourists to Tanzania is mainly mountain climbing and safaris. Snorkeling and all other beach-related activities is just a sidekick. Tourists can get that in South Africa or Kenya. I am looking for how Tanzania is going to differentiate herself in the market here.

I don’t see a clear spelling of how the government will make tourists stay longer and dish more money in Tanzania, unless their strategy is a “trade secret”, which they are keeping away from competitors. Knowing what we know about Bongoland (I’m playing pessimistic here based on the past experience), we shouldn’t be surprised that there is no such a strategy anywhere. Nonetheless, I will give the benefit of the doubt.

You brought up very key marketing information – that about 50% of tourists visiting Zanzibar are Italians! I would just wonder with you: does the Tanzanian government know why the Italians like Z’bar? But more importantly, do we have adequately trained local tourist operators? (The reason Kenyans are even snatching jobs in Tanzania is because they are well trained than their Tanzanian counterparts) The last time I checked, French was second to English in foreign language popularity in Tanzania. If we don’t have as many French tourists as Italians, then we are no aligning our strategies with the market realities. As I pointed out earlier, do we really know our tourist (customer)?

I am very optimistic about Tanzania, but as I have said before, we have to really work on some key areas such our decision-making process. One of the key ingredients in changing our decision-making process is ensuring that we make decisions based on the best information. Taking it a step further, we have to know what we can do with the information once we get it.

Mbwana said...

Metty:
First of, I think you touch on a very sensitive topic here on Govt role within the tourism sector- now I will confess to be a total capitalist, free-market person and I think the area of tourism operations is best left to the mainly the private sector (including marketing and attempts to increase stay & spend- it is in their interests!)- the Govt's role is simply to ensure sustainability, encourage investment and SOME training (not all- even language ability is questionable- what, should zanzibari children have to learn italian in their school curriculum? That is crazy for many reasons) and do top-level brand awareness and basic regulation. The rest, private sector can largely take care off and should be encouraged. Example, the 50% italians in Zanzibar are caterred to by European investors, who bring in their own expertise and knowledge of what Italians want, not to mention capital and even personell(I only worry about making more of a show of effort to train and employ locals to become managers and eventual small operators ). Locally run small business is a serious issue though, since we don't want our tourism sector to be largely run by foreign investors- but I think for some sectors- like the italians, that's what they want, an experience totallly controlled by Italians.
Metty- I hope you understand the notion that the Govt can't certainly do everything, you do know that they are capacity constrained and have other priority areas to worry about (health & education for instance)- The private sector is stepping up and the Govt continues to play an enabling role- and I think they are doing a good job- BTW, Tanzania's tourism is not in the dire straits you seem to imply- it is getting much healthier, with 15-20% year on year rises in no.s (i have the data spreadsheets to prove it, since I am looking at this area to get into business in future), average stay and spend is also improving (the kili, game park, beach proposition is working. The holy grail "seems" to be attracting american tourists, and the government is working hard at this behind the scenes- I know for instance the tourism director was recently in the US at a Harvard Conference on Africa business trying to build awareness and attract investors- so there is a sense that there is strategy- I wouldn't be so pessimistic on Govt actions in this area- the $20 tax on vehicles and recent Kili price increases, proves that they have a good handle.
P.S. The Govt certainly knows why Italians like Zanzibar- Italian investors negotiated with the Govt to get approved investment to build many exclusive large resorts, roads and other areas way back in the 1980s- and marketing of Zanzibar in Italy is very strong. Italians are so important to Zanzibar I sometimes think they are getting special treatment by the Govt!
P.P.S They are also many french tourists, but I believe they like all areas of Tanzania, so they are not as concentrated and apparent as the italians who focus intently on package beach holidays in Zanzibar- The french are not as strong on investing like the italians.
P.P.P.S I worry a lot about cultural backlashes in Zanzibar because of some segment of tourist [will remain un-named], who are engaing in prostitution and other evils in culturally sensitive Zanzibar. But that comes with globalisation, unfortunately.

Jaduong Metty said...

@Mbwana
Just to let you know – I am not in support of government running business. Nonetheless, some regulation is always needed across the world. It seems to me that the government still has a strong hand in the industry through the Tourism Board, I just don’t know to what degree. Based on your response, private sector seems to be very much active in the industry. It appears you have more knowledge of the tourism industry than I am. As such, I will defer and take a back seat.

I wasn’t trying to imply that the government should start teaching Italian as part of the curriculum. There are plenty of private institutions that teach French, but I wonder if the same institutions are looking into Italian as language for tour guides and such. I guess it all boils down to shortage of business skills in Tanzania. And that statement goes to all businesses in Tanzania with a few exceptions.

Obviously, the flocking of tourists in Tanzania does come a cultural (both positive and negative) baggage. I am just curious, since I have not done any research: are Caribbean countries facing the same cultural backlash as a result of tourism?

Mbwana said...

Ah, no worries- sorry to imply strongly that you thought Govt should have a strong role. But some people do think that a strong Govt role is important for such a crucial sector of the economy- but I think in our case, I argue private sector does a good job now and should continue to be encouraged- the government should have prudent policies to ensure locals are being trained and have some mobility to move up and run the show from these foreign investors (after all, this is a key way for management techniques to be spread about)- the goal is that it spawns many small local tour operators which creates much needed jobs, rather than depending solely on foreign managers filling the capabilities gap.
The Caribbean probably has its issues, and I'm guessing its drugs and other related - but I think the issue is more serious and sensitive in Zanzibar, given the Islamic culture incompatibility with western values. For instance, a seemingly un-harmful gesture of an American walking around in a bikini or revealing clothing is a no-no in stowntown, but this is a serious issue if non-sophistaced travelers arrive in Zanzibar and behave that way. At one point, women in villages, complained to the Govt, that their husbands were not returning from their tourism related jobs at night- engaging in things they should not be doing... You can start to see how just limiting no.s can help sustain tourism and the cultural backlashes be slowly limited, rather than causing outright offense.
Another important issue to get out there related to Zanzibar, is the impact the elections have on the tourism trade- literally, the UK and US Govt advisories for foreign travel advise against visiting Zanzibar during this time- so we have a dip every 4-5 years on our tourist trade- this not need happen...

Jaduong Metty said...

@Mbwana,
I think you have just added another key element to the growth of tourism industry, and that is: political stability. I wonder if the Tanzanian government, particularly the Zanzibar government has tied the political atmosphere in the Isles to the entire tourism strategy.

My guess would be that it is not happening that way. Given what we have experienced in Zanzibar politically, it would be a joke to conclude that the government has tied “democracy” to economic development.

It is kind of tempting to explore more and even write a book on this…

Gillian said...

Hello, I just thought I would add the thought that the limited infrastructure of Tanzania (e.g. poor roads, health services) and conditions (endemic disease, crime) means that it can't appeal to 'non-seasoned' travellers. It is for seasoned travellers.

Little by little, this can change over time, as the tourism experience improves along with infrastructure and conditions. The govt strategy needs to be realistic in terms of the actual visitor experience that can be offered.

All good points you make about sustainability and attracting high-value tourists rather than insensitive crowds.

Truth in marketing is a good thing. Word of mouth is more powerful than acres of ads. Let the seasoned travellers who are not dismayed by bad roads and malaria go home and tell their friends what a great experience they had. It's better than the masses going home and talking about their disappointments.

I'm hoping to visit in Sept. I hope I'm seasoned enough to enjoy every bit of it!!

Jaduong Metty said...

@Gillian
Thanks for paying a visit to my blog again. Honestly, it appears Mbwana has a very good handle on the tourism industry that I am and I think he made some very valid and strong arguments.

I reflected on this from a perspective of mass tourism - which you guys just chopped into pieces. Which is good. I didn't think of another segment of touristg who are not into the polished Florida beaches, but a rugged Tanzanian experience.

I would like to hear your experience once you get back to Tanzania in September.

Shy said...

The economical base means, that best economy sector of a particular country,land or societies plus groups,which has to be generated for the profit of every partcular member.

We all know that Tanzania is well much blessed by the nature , because of its large area and wide flat land plus mountains and bushes. The paradise for millions of wild animals, and inclusive the lakes which make Tanzania as the only country in Africa with so many Lakes with so much attraction. The size of Tanzania is massive, unbelievable! It is like if you take the whole France, Germany and Belgium together to make one country, some countries like Austria and Island can completely sink inside the greatest Lake in the world, Lake Victoria, which is just a one/third fraction of Tanzania’s size.

The country is not so much well known around the globe, comparing to other countries like our neighbour, Kenya or South Africa, Cameroon because of football and Nigeria is because of Oil reserves. These other countries do a lot of advertisements around the globe in order to boost up their economy sector by attracting so many investors as many as possible, which brings down the rate of unemployment!

In tourism, I can say that we have made much effort to manage it well, the tourists always feel safe to travel around Tanzania without worrying of terror or other criminal activities. Zanzibar as part of Tanzania has raised its GDP by involving more the locals to so many projects which can help to reduce unemployment, at the same time to raise the standards of living among the locals.

But where are all the industries which we used to have back in the 80s, most of them have been bankrupt due to lack of funds. Electricity is still a big problem until today, if there is no electricity, then there is no production of goods, made in Tanzania for Tanzanians or for export. The existing industries are like Cement fabric, Fish export, TBL(beer production), Sigara (sportsman and SM etc) and some other small companies which are owned by Individuals through privatisations of firms.

We, Tanzania need more than what we have now to produce and to export African jokes Do you know why black African Americans don’t celebrate thanxgiving? Is because the Kentucky Fried Chicken is not open.