Locals do not seem to be interested in visiting the country’s tourism attractions which are mainly the wildlife packed national parks and the blame has been squared on local journalists as well as their media outlets for failing to persuade ordinary Tanzanians to become tourists in their own country.
Experts figure that the local tourism industry’s dependency on visitors from abroad to keep the sector afloat was risky and susceptible to drastic effects of global economic crunch and terrorism. Under such circumstances, some 40 journalists from the northern zone regions of Tanga, Arusha, Manyara and Kilimanjaro recently gathered in Moshi, under the auspices of the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) to address the situation.
TANAPA Director General , Mr Allan Kijazi had one concern:“Journalists claim to be time-constrained and without adequate resources to cover issues related to the country’s tourism promotion,” he said. But according to Mr Kijazi, the same journalists usually find the time and resources to follow up scandalous and negative stories related to tourism and without the slightest misgivings that they could actually be doing disservice to the country, which depends of the sector for 20 per cent of its revenues.
Mr Sirili Akko from the Arusha-based Tanzania Association of Tour Operators with a membership base of over 300 firms countrywide was of the view that domestic tourism as well as cultural tourism are sleeping giants which need to be explored to contribute immensely to Tanzania’s economy.
Figures from the Tanzania Tourists Board indicate that nearly 80 per cent of tourists coming to the country want to visit National Parks or essentially gaze at wild animals in the wilderness. “Apart from pristine parks, Tanzania has more than 130 tribes with diverse cultures and values, which offer opportunities of learning opportunities among different groups within the country and thus establish another area of tourism that remains unexploited so far,” pointed out Mr Akko.
He added that improving the industry to encompass cultural tourism will enable even rural dwellers to raise their incomes and reduce poverty. That can be achieved if the government creates an enabling environment for tourism to grow by having strong plans to link with other sectors such as art and agriculture.
Mr Johnson Manase, TANAPA Tourism Officer, cited India which has used its traditional medicines to attract tourists. He said that millions of people visit the country for treatment which is yet another form of tourism. Tanzania seemingly has more to offer than just wild animals but all that can only be achieved if the media would play its role.
The TATO official stated that journalists were capable of shaping people’s as well as policy makers’ opinions and that if anything was to be changed, the press should have something to do with it. However, almost all journalists who attended the media event in Moshi complained of lack of cooperation from people in the tourism industry, whenever they try to get some information from them, with those in TANAPA being alleged to be notorious for such a tendency.
“When a single rhino gets killed in Tanzania, the media gets a field day and it gets reported throughout the world but the same people reporting on such matters never take the time to pause and think or find out how many such rare species are poached in other countries,” said Mr Paschal Shelutete, TANAPA Public Relations Manager.
According to Mr Shelutete, this year (2012) alone nearly 200 Rhinos were killed in South Africa, a country richer and more equipped to handle poaching activities than Tanzania yet when a single such incident occurs in the Serengeti the local media goes wild. Mr Nicodemus Ikonko, a veteran journalist who spoke on behalf of the journalists during the occasion called on the local to reevaluate the role it has played in promoting the country’s tourism.
“Our basic functions as journalists are none other than informing, educating and entertaining our society. Have we done enough in objectively covering the sector?” he asked. He said that it is well known that tourism is among the main sources of revenue for the country and offers many employment opportunities. “Are we really patriotic despite the fact that we do not have to be biased?
I am not saying that we should not report unpleasant incidents but we can do it in a manner that does not scare away tourists,” he said. According to Mr Ikonko, reckless reporting can negatively affect the growth of this important sector and that journalists are part of the Tanzanian society which benefits from the sector.