Published on Africa Can End Poverty

Is Tanzania attracting enough tourists?

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ImageLet's think together: Every week the World Bank team in Tanzania wants to stimulate your thinking by sharing data from recent official surveys in Tanzania and ask you a couple of questions. This post is also published in the Tanzanian Newspaper The Citizen every Sunday.

Tourism is among the world’s most lucrative industries. The latest figures from 2009 show that the industry generated US$852 billion in export earnings worldwide, accommodated more than 800 million travelers, and accounted for more than 255 million jobs or nearly 11 per cent of the global workforce in that year. It is no surprise then that this industry is considered a major driver for employment, growth and development.

As a country that is enormously endowed with marvels such as the Ngorongoro Crater, the many beautiful beaches and the magnificent game reserves and national parks that host scores of unique wildlife, and as the home of  the Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa which thrones at above 5,880 meters, Tanzania couldn’t have been better placed to be a competitive player in the tourist industry. This is also in addition to the fact that the country has enjoyed enduring political stability and relatively low crime rates. No wonder The New York Times awarded Tanzania 7th position out of 45 must-visit destinations in 2012. Yet, the numbers tell a different story. 

  • With an estimated 714,000 and 782,000 visitors in 2009 and 2010, Tanzania attracted less tourists than Uganda (806,658; 945,899 and 1,151,356 in 2009, 2010 and 2011) and Kenya (952,481 in 2009 and 1,095,945 in 2010 up from 729,000 in 2008 just after the political violence).
  • Mara, the Kenyan side of the Serengeti which occupies only a tenth of its total size attracts 10 times more visitors than the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
  • Tourism generates around 250,000 (direct and indirect) jobs in Tanzania or less than 2 per cent of the labor force, while in Kenya the industry accounts for 483,000 jobs.
  • In 2008 Tanzania received 0.017 visitors per inhabitant, the 17th lowest out of 147 countries.

Average bed occupancy rate in Tanzanian hotels was estimated at only 47 percent in 2010.
Tanzania’s lackluster performance in tourism compared to its neighbors seems partly attributable to its being a relatively more expensive destination. Safari hotels in Kenya are on average US$300 cheaper per night than those in Tanzania. Even within Tanzania, hotels in safari areas are more than three times more expensive than beach hotels. High costs could reflect the Government's strategy to concentrate on the luxury range of tourism activities in order to compensate low numbers with higher expenses per visitor.  Indeed, the average tourist in Tanzania stayed an average of 11 days and spent US$1,600, which is higher than in Uganda where the average tourist spends US$700.   This is however lower compared to Seychelles where the average visitor who stayed 10 days spent US$2,200.

Notably, in Tanzania, tourism is concentrated in the Arusha and Zanzibar areas with more than 90 percent of visitors spending most of their time in these two regions. 
This raises a number of questions:

  • Should Tanzania attempt to attract more tourists than Kenya or Uganda in order to create more jobs locally?
  • Is Tanzania adequately marketing itself to the outside world?
  • Why is safari tourism in Tanzania so much more expensive than Kenya?
  • Should government promote low-cost tourism in regions that are not visited by tourists?
  • Should government invest more in infrastructure and in the quality of services?
  • Are upscale international hotel chains capturing too much of the gains from tourism? How can quality services be delivered by local agents?
  • How can Tanzania control the attendant negative, environmental and social effects of a successful tourism industry?

Note: The statistics used here are extracted from the Economic Surveys, the World Travel and Tourism Council, the World Bank Kenya Report 2010, The Uganda 2012 tourism Statistical Abstract, and the National Bureau of Economic Research working paper # 17902. All are publicly available.


Jacques Morisset

Lead Economist and Program Leader, World Bank

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