Tanzania's leading attractions include Ngorongoro Crater, followed by Serengeti National Park and Mount Kilimanjaro, all of which are found in the Northern Circuit, commanding more than 80 per cent of the country's annual 700,000 plus tourists' inflow.To get to these attractions, visitors wherever they come from, must pass through Arusha and set off to game drives, mountain climbing or crater viewing.
Kenya, with 1.5 million tourists per year, banks heavily on Maasai Mara which relies on animals crossing from the Serengeti in Arusha. Amboseli shares wildlife from Longido and the relatively more developed beach tourism of Mombasa is a crowd puller.But before Tanzania woke up to smell the coffee, Kenya was selling Mount Kilimanjaro through aggressive promotions abroad and claiming that Africa's highest peak was in Kenya. The mountain can be clearly seen on the drive from Nairobi to Mombasa through the Emali-Kimana and Loitokitok route.
Kilimanjaro became a bone of contention between Arusha and Nairobi and before we knew it, a parliamentary delegation toured Serengeti in late 2009 and ordered the unofficial gate at Bologonja, situated north of the Park, closed.Tour operators from across the border used to drive through the gate with their visitors and enjoy game viewing without the inconvenience of reporting at Seronera gate to complete paper work and pay entry dues.
The cold war got colder with cases of Tanzanian tour guides being overcharged while in Kenya and forced off the road. And with the retaliation back home it was becoming a mini conflict.A week ago the Executive Secretary for the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators, Mr Mustafa Akonaay and Member of Parliament of Mbulu constituency hinted on a new development.
"We have realized that our animosity with Nairobi was misplaced as far as tourism is concerned. We are both small players in a very big field, fighting for morsels while better placed countries benefit from our misunderstandings," revealed Mr Akonaay. Cutting across the East African Community, all the members are stakeholders in the tourism industry. Namely Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi intend to establish single destination package promoting attractions that will be marketed abroad simply as East Africa.
By pooling resources, both Tanzania and Kenya are strong enough to compete against giants like South Africa and Egypt.Recently, the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Ezekiel Maige, stated in Arusha that even at national level, tourism attractions are marketed in pieces; Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) promotes the crater separately while the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) markets the parks alone and the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) chips in here and there in marketing Tanzania in general.
The solution is for the different bodies to work in harmony and market Tanzania through combined efforts instead of each authority doing it on its own as if they were from three different countries. Mr Akonaay on the other hand, said the same arrangement will work at the regional level.
While Arusha and Nairobi were busy wrestling each other regarding the promotion of Mount Kilimanjaro, the closure of Bologonja Gate and the construction of the proposed Arusha-Musoma road via Serengeti, tourism giants on the continent were smiling all the way to the bank.
South Africa's main attractions are the Kruger National Park and Robben Island. The rainbow country records nearly 900,000 tourists per month, with 210,000 of them coming from outside the African continent. In other words, what South Africa gets as leisure visitors within just four weeks, is more than the number of tourists that Tanzania gets in an entire year!
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania's biggest pride, lost to South Africa's Table Mountain of Cape Town in the ongoing search of the 'New Seven Wonders of Nature.'There are unfounded reports that South Africa is busy selling Zanzibar as an extended plug-in to its popular beaches of Durban and Cape Town.
A recent report from the 'Tanzania Tourism Marketing Study' also indicates that Tanzania has abundant tourist attractions far superior to Kenya, thus it shouldn't worry about the latter but prepare to face stiff competition from Botswana and South Africa.Some visitors think Africa is a single country and cannot tell the difference when they buy safaris in Nairobi and have a package that includes Mt Kilimanjaro or be flown from Johannesburg to Zanzibar as an alternative destination.
Few safaris sold from Arusha included Zanzibar despite the fact that Arusha has daily flights to the Spice Island.Johannesburg seized the opportunity many years and in fact in one of its popular TV soap series 'Isidingo', an episode was shot in Zanzibar's Stone Town making the Isles visible in South Africa.
So if tourists can sample Robben Island, Kruger Park, Durban beaches and wind up the tour with a visit to Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro on a single package sold in Johannesburg, then Arusha needs to strategise accordingly. "Nearly 60 per cent of tourists' expenses is spent on travel, countries that want to develop their tourism industry must have vibrant national carriers to guarantee visitors flows even during global economic crises upon which fares could be lowered to attract travellers," said Akonaay.