Tanzania rides tourism boom

In the African country of Tanzania, the tourism industry is booming but there's mounting pressure to ensure visitors don't do more harm than good. Karen Ashford reports.

As nations around the world scramble to attract tourist dollars, pressure's mounting to ensure visitors don't do more harm than good.

It's a particular challenge for African nations, where poor infrastructure can mean the natural attractions that tourists want to see are at risk of being too popular.

One such country is Tanzania, where our correspondent Karen Ashford looked at the ups and downs of tourist boom, and one Aussie idea to make a difference.


Tanzania: stunning natural beauty, amazing wildlife, a photographers paradise. If you can get a shot in amongst the competition.

Despite the crowd here, Tanzania believes it can handle more visitors and Australia's a target market.

Even its President says the country needs to play catch up with its high profile cousins South Africa and Kenya.

"People think that Mount Kilimanjaro is in Kenya, so they go to Kenya to see Mount Kilimanjaro when the mountain is actually on the Tanzanian side," said Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

"Some go to Kenya to see the Serengeti - so it is because our neighbours have been more proactive in terms of marketing their tourist assets."

Only 10,000 Australians visit Tanzania each year, that's a tenth of those visiting South Africa.

And Australian tour companies think the market could easily double.

"Since 1998 there was about 4,800 Australians travelling to Tanzania, and last year there were 11,000 Australians entering Tanzania," said Lawrence Deale from Traveljoy tours. "So over time it's definitely a growing market."

A challenge is overcoming Africa's image problems.

Marie Elson visited Tanzania last year despite the concerns of friends and family

She recalls the warnings from friends and family.

"Oh, you must be mad. Do you think it's safe? You must be so brave. And I think oh heck..."

This time her sister Joan's joining her.

"I'm also just a bit apprehensive," said Joan Elson. "People keep telling me that I'm being very stupid or very brave or very something and they wouldn't go - I think they have the idea that all of Africa is perhaps like what we see on television with a lot of unrest and a lot of violence, and in fact where we're going isn't going to be like that."

In Tanzania apprehension was replaced by wonder.

"It just blows my mind, the animals, seeing all of the animals has just been lovely," said Joan Elson. "And seeing them in their natural habitat, they're just here and we're privileged to be able to share a bit of that time with them."

But how is the wildlife they're coming to see coping with all the attention?

In one part of Tanzania, a pride of lions stalks its prey, a trio of buffalo but misses.

The quarry is perhaps alerted by the many vehicles, the lions are clearly accustomed to them.

"It's unfortunate there were so many vehicles there at the time," said Australian tourist Wynn Rees. "Which I think inhibited their ability to be able to carry out the kill. So I think over time they may limit the number of vehicles which can be in any one spot, which I think would be a great advantage."

But limiting visitor access is problematic as people travel huge distances at great cost and won't want to be turned away.

Authorities think diversifying the tourism experience may help.

"It's not a crisis even, because the area is just too big, you see," said Adam Akyoo from the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area Authority.

"But we are very much sensitive that we don't allow the mass tourism, but also encourage the quality tourism. That's why we are trying to make sure that we don't have too much people at the same time, but fortunately too the area is not yet congested. It is not."

Ngorongoro caldera is one of the richest biodiversity hotspots on the planet and a key part of the Tanzanian government's tourism push, but tourism success brings with it potential downsides, putting immense pressure on fragile environments.

The challenge it seems is to strike a balance.

Now an Australian who fell in love with Africa wants to ensure tourism works for its animals, not against them.

Brian Gow wants to set up a wildlife sanctuary for injured animals. Tourists would pay for the privilege of looking after animals in the fight against poaching.

"And part of the proceeds for that would go back into the local community to help the local school children get a better understanding of the importance of conservation," said Perth entrepreneur Brian Gow.

"So rather than them see wildlife as an opportunity to get money through them being killed, they can get regular weekly or monthly amounts of money through the volunteering program."

Such ideas have worked elsewhere, and Tanzania's keen on giving it a try.

"Nowadays we're establishing wildlife management areas, in order to involve the community in conservation, and of course to benefit from wildlife conservation," said the Tanzanian acting Director of Wildlife, Paul Sarakikya.

"So whatever we get from outside, the international community, including volunteers, in many ways, not only one way, we'd really appreciate it."

Brian Gow's developed a business plan seeking government contribution of land and thereby avoiding reliance on corporate sponsors, so earnings stay in the community.

"It would be a new opportunity for the Tanzanian government to focus on volunteering because in tourism it's a growth area," said Mr Gow.

"The initial investment by the government for the first 12 months would be recouped I would say in the first 12-18 months maximum."

He hopes to have the sanctuary up and running by mid 2013.

WATCH: Extended interview with Tanzania's Tourism Minister, Khamis Kagasheki