Ruaha National Park set to boost local tourism

THE family of five squeaked in delight when the pride of lions passed in front of the vehicle, as clicks from massive cameras and smart phones dominated the silence that followed.

Jim Hancock and his family have come to Tanzania for their vacation and the first destination for them was the Serengeti national Park, where the allure of seeing all the wild animals in close contact saw them saving enough money to ensure a good time.

“My daughters have never seen a real lion before, because the only time they saw any wild animal was through the TV and the internet, for us it is a chance of a life time and this memory will last for a long time,” Jim said at the end of their vacation.

Every year, thousands of tourists from all corners of the world visit Tanzania so that they can get a chance of seeing the wild animals in their natural habitat, if anything, they do not take it for granted.

On the other side, 25 kilometres from Ruaha National Park, Raphael Mwakyusa lives in harmony with his family, but unbeknownst to some, the old man had never set foot in the park….with some reasons, he says.

“If you ask me, I do not see why I should leave whatever I am doing so that I can go and gaze at the animals, after all, that is their home, I do not see the reason why I should go and disturb them,” says Mr Mwakyusa while wearing a very serious face.

The old man strongly believes that spending your hard earned money to go and stare at wild animals is strictly left for the ‘wazungu’ (white folks) and he does not make it his business to try and imitate their ‘weird’ behaviour.

“I will not be caught dead in any of the parks, believe me, unless you transform me into a white old man,” he says with a chuckle. This strong belief held by the old man, sad as it might seem, is entertained by a big number of Tanzanians, who believe that visiting tourist attractions should be left to people from other continents.

According to tourism experts, for the sector to become successful and sustainable, domestic and international tourism should complement each other.

Despite having a significant role in the industry of tourism economy, reports indicate that domestic tourism in the country is still negligible among local residents.

A 2018 Wildlife-Based Domestic Tourism in Tanzania report titled ‘Experiences from Northern Tourist Circuit’ published in the Journal Environmental Policy and Planning indicate that international tourism in the country is very sensitive to matters that have no local control.

Empirical examples of situations that have in the history of Tanzania led international tourism not to perform impressively include recession in world economies in 1973 and 2008-2009, enormous increase in oil prices from 1973 and drought of 1974.

Other events are closure of Kenya - Tanzania border in 1977, the Uganda War of 1978/79, the September 11, 2001 attack at the World Trade Centre in USA and other terrorism activities in the northern hemisphere. Apart from that, international tourism is very vulnerable to poor tourism infrastructure and bad press publicity.

Besides, the intense competition for overseas tourists, especially with other countries offering similar products like Kenya, South Africa and Uganda affects the tourism sector performance.

It is in this background that the management of Ruaha National Park is strategizing for long-term action plans and programmes aimed at promoting the domestic tourism in the famous park and other tourism attractions and destinations in the Southern Circuit.

One such plan which is already on the cards is the establishment of monthly trips for Iringa residents and other Tanzanians to Ruaha National Park, to visit and explore the uniqueness of the park in the Southern Circuit as well as other tourism destinations.

Speaking to a team of journalists from the Journalists Environmental Association (JET), the Park’s Tourism Marketing Officer, Mr Antipas Mgumgusi said that the plan yet to be finalized for takeoff will help encourage Tanzanians to develop interest of visiting tourism destinations.

“We are very sure that if the locals are taken to the park, they will develop interest, because they will come across or learn and get to know the importance of visiting the parks during their leisure time- --they will also realize the uniqueness of the park on top of what they knew already,” he says.

He says that a research conducted recently shows that majority of Tanzanians are unable to pay for leisure visits to tourist destinations as they cannot afford the cost of travelling to the park and that the trips to the park (Ruaha National Park) will enable residents of Iringa and nearby regions to contribute a small amount of money if they travel in groups for a tour in the park, which in turn will help in boosting the country’s economy.

“The money to be contributed by those willing to travel to the park will include the cost of the whole trip, including the entry fees. The trip will be organised on one weekend of every month to enable many people to visit the park (Ruaha) and other tourism destinations in the country,” he said, adding that the trips will be increased if the trend records positive results.

At the park, local tourists will receive affordable services, including the rental fees, food and other necessary services required at the park. “We offer affordable services to the locals and to members of East African countries.

Services such as food and rentals are availed to the local tourists at affordable fees,” he says and adds that the main bottleneck to the development of domestic tourism was high travelling fees that the majorities are unable to afford individually.

Mr Antipas said that the monthly trips will be conducted in line with having regular campaigns for encouraging Tanzanians to team and hire cars for travelling to the park at cheap prices.

“We also plan to have a campaign that will enable Tanzanians organise the trips in teams, such as family, workmates and friends and go as a team or groups to the tourism attraction destinations,” he says.

Another plan on the card, he says, is developing active and sustainable publicity of the park and marketing products at the park at the grassroots to attract more local tourists.

“If the plans are achieved, we will ensure domestic tourism is made the mainstay for the tourism industry development and in turn cushion the deficit in foreign revenue in case of a drop in international tourism,” he says.

The Tanzania Tourism Board (TTB) reports on the annual ‘Trends of Domestics Visitors’ at Tanzania’s National Parks indicate that Ruaha National Park received 12,958 and 12,161 visitors in 2016 and 2017 respectively, as 440,510, 408,136 local visitors were recorded in all the national parks in the same period.

According to statistics, in 2016, over 1 million tourists visited Tanzania for various tourist activities.

On the other hand, Mr Mgumgusi said the number of local tourists to Ruaha Park is still far from complementing international tourism which will in turn contribute towards the development of the economy in the tourism industry as required.

The Iringa Regional Commissioner (RC), Mr Ally Hapi seconded the move, adding that it is likely to inspire majority of Tanzanians to develop an interest of visiting the wildlife-based areas and other tourism destinations.

“With the plans on the card, we still need to do more to further promote domestic tourism---this is because domestic tourism in Iringa and other areas of the Southern Circuit is still low, because majority of the people have no interest and do not know anything about our tourism destinations,” he says.

The RC points out that poor promotion of the tourism attraction destinations are one of the major factors that jam the development of domestic tourism in the country.

“Majority of Tanzanians have no culture of visiting the country’s tourist attraction areas and this is because of poor marketing of the destinations to the locals,” he says and called for authorities and stakeholders to organize sustainable campaigns that will help in encouraging both international and local visitors to tour the state’s wildlife-based areas and other tourism destinations.

According to the 2018 Report in the Journal on Environmental Policy and Planning, it indicates that poor promotion was among the main obstacles affecting domestic tourism in Tanzania.

“It is believed that successful promotional practices are the tools that effectively ensure or create a stable tourist demand in the country,” says the report.

The report recommended the need for the government to increase the number of institutions providing training on tourism to various cadres and strengthening the few that already exist, with a view to improving the quality of personnel and hence quality and efficiency of service delivery.

The Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) recently embarked on an innovative strategy to help grow domestic tourism and attract more local tourists to the country’s numerous tourism destinations.

In a bid to build capacity for marketing Tanzania tourism, USAID under the PROTECT project provided a server to Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) to help it improve the entire IT infrastructure performance at TTB, as well as ensuring the safety of information on their website, uninterrupted access to the site by partners and tourists, efficient email communications, access to TTB online content such as on YouTube and other social networks, while eliminating TTB creliance con an external server.

The server, according to USAID, aims at helping TTB to be able to monitor and manage all their online information in real time.

The server also aimed at easing the government’s quest to provide accurate information about tourism destinations in Tanzania in one place, thereby making it available and accessible to many people around the world.

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