Tanzania is a destination that receives many tourists every year because of its spectacular nature, the possibility of safaris in its national in its national parks, and its beaches. In fact, it gained 1.5 million arrivals in 2019, and its goal is to reach 5 million by 2025. However, as we all know, tourism can have a negative impact on the environment and especially on local communities. That is why more and more tourists, aware of these problems, are looking for ways to make a sustainable travel in Tanzania and have a positive impact on the territory.
In this article we explain what should be taken into account before traveling to Tanzania if we want our trip to be sustainable and respectful with the territory.
Choose a travel agency specialized in sustainable travel and eco-tourism.
If you travel with travel agency If you travel with a travel agency, look for one that focuses on sustainability and respect for the local population.
This is not simply offering a local guide, or visiting a local weaving workshop. But we will explain that later.
The idea is to minimize the environmental impact and maximize the benefits for the territory. And not only direct economic ones, but also the quality of life. For example, look for solidarity travel agencies that meet the following requirements:
1- Support to local communities
Tourists can support local communities in a variety of ways. At the same time, we must be aware that we can have a negative impact on them. Therefore, it is important to ask what kind of local and immersive tourism we will be doing during our sustainable travel in Tanzania and whether it will really be respectful tourism or not. And the truth is that it is easy to fall into proposals, agencies or tour operators that offer us visits to local communities without giving them more than that, a visit, or even harming them with it.
So, what can we look out for when we travel?
Most of the time, a sustainable travel agency will work with small local suppliers, who will pass on the benefits of tourism in a more balanced and ethical way. Some agencies work with NGOs that are financed, in part, by tourism. And we are not talking about volunteering, but about leisure, adventure or cultural trips, which are organized between an agency and the staff of an NGO.
The NGO, in addition to creating jobs for tourism, raises funds thanks to the tourists, which it then invests in its projects, whether in education, health, women’s empowerment, or others.
In Tanzania, you can visit community projects such as schools, medical centers, or handicraft centers where you can buy directly from local people and then go on safari with local guides, hired by the NGO, who have a living wage.
Traveling with us, we will be able to interact with the local people and learn about their culture and daily life in Tanzania, and we can be sure that our trip helps the development of local communities.
And what should we avoid when visiting communities?
There are countless agencies, large and small, that include certain activities with local people, who then do not receive a fair return. And it goes beyond that: these communities are not the ones who decide what activities to do, how, or the price. They are mere executors, the last part of the chain, or sometimes, simple backpack carriers.
If we really want to develop tourism that supports local communities, we must seek proposals that respect them and contribute to their empowerment. And how? Asking ourselves these questions:
– Has the local community decided to carry out this activity?
– Do the communities you work with, and that we visit, accept and want this activity to take place?
– Have they been part of the design of that activity, and of the decisions for the definition of the route, for example?
– Do the people who are going to be our guides havea decent salary? Do they have a fixed salary, or do they depend on our tips?
– Is the activity designed so that the whole community benefits in some way, or is it just one person who receives all the benefit?
– Does our visit have an impact that translates into jobs, a better quality of life, a contribution to education, healthcare or the specific needs of that community?
If the answer is “no”
the trip will not be socially or culturally sustainable. The agency’s proposal will invite you to visit a community that has been practically subjected to this activity, by obligation. Surely no one has put a gun to their heads to make them do it, but they have been forced, by the pressure and impact of tourism, to do it. And what is worse: they have not decided, being on their own land, how to do it, what is the price you have to pay and what benefit they get. They have become a tourist stop, without having any control over it. And now, they depend on your visit, to receive a pittance and without being able to lead anything, or improve their conditions.
Be careful when we talk about visiting local communities. Let’s do it by asking ourselves all these questions, or we will be perpetuating dependence, inequality, and the exploitation of territories by those who run tourism, instead of promoting the empowerment of communities, their progress and leadership in the exploitation of their land.
The problem with tourism to Maasai villages
An example in which we can find countless examples of negative practices with respect to the visit of local communities is with the Maasai people. Tanzania, for example, has a considerable percentage of its population of Masai culture. The Maasai tribes have been displaced out of the national parks as governments have “closed” the parks to tourists like us. Where there used to live massai and animals in the wild, now only animals live there.
The Maasai are semi-nomadic, that is to say, they create their settlements according to the climate and the existing resources. Now, there was a time when they did not decide to migrate to another point, but were expelled, in order to delimit these national parks. This has led many Maasai villages to move to the outskirts and try to attract the attention of tourists leaving or entering the parks, as they have been forced to leave their daily lives and activities, due to the imposition of tourism. Some tribes open their doors to tourists going to the Serengeti, and visiting them is totally legal. However, doubts arise as to whether these visits to Maasai villages that receive tourists day in and day out are ethical, economically sustainable in the medium and long term, and have a positive impact on the communities.
Are our tours respectful? Is there racism in our visit?
These are some of the questions we have to ask ourselves when we do conscious tourism. Where is the boundary between “I enjoy getting to know another culture” and the negative impact on them?
It is a difficult balance between tourist and local culture where there are always large gaps between the two sides. And we, as conscious travelers, have to try to keep these to a minimum so as not to affect them negatively, and above all, to do so from a position of equality, far from expecting certain things from that tribe with the desire that they behave, dress or say what we believe or expect. That is classism, and racism.
To be surprised that a Maasai wears a watch, or a child in the community wears X brand of sneakers. In our imaginary, from a Western position, we imagine that tribe as something that has not been “contaminated” by anything we have. And besides, when we travel so far, we hope we don’t run into something like that, right? Amig@s, we are sorry to tell you that tourism or globalization has just that impact, and to expect nothing to change or to be disappointed by such an image is classism.
Cultural immersion or intrusive visit?
Around this scenario a vicious circle is generated between the Maasai leaders (the power), the guides, the drivers, the translators and the travel agencies. The agencies for choosing to go through the village, the driver for stopping, the local guide for negotiating and taking more money than the Maasai, etc. They are very superficial dives, in fact, we would say that they are not dives, but simple visits where you spend money to buy some handicrafts, which then does not go directly to the person who made it, nor does it contribute to any prosperous activity.
Although they tell you that the money goes to women and children, this is not the case and it is distributed in a non-transparent way. And then we have to ask ourselves, do you feel like doing the dance and welcoming several groups of tourists like you into your home every day? does the visit enrich you as a person or does it make you feel a little uncomfortable? Would you prefer to do it differently, more equitable and respectful, more immersive and less intrusive, but don’t know how?
Massai tourism alternatives with positive impact
There is a way to get to know the Maasai culture in a more respectful and conscious way. Before visiting a community, we have to be aware of what we are going to do. Do we visit a settlement such as those mentioned above, or do we visit a Maasai community that opens its doors to us in a way that is not conditional on the tourist’s quick money?
Being demanding with our travel agency
Does our visit really help community, economic, environmental and social improvement, taking into account the 5Ps of sustainable tourism?
It is a complex subject and full of contradictions, but we could base it on the following: if those we visit have universal rights covered, we will not care so much about where our money goes, or who takes it, or what they invest it in. But if this is not the case, the least we can do is to pay close attention to what we hire so that the SDGs are met as much as possible. Simply put, visiting a village in Norway is not the same as visiting a tribe in Tanzania . And your demands should change with your travel agency, because if you want to travel in a respectful and positive way, you have every right to demand that they explain how they do it.
For it to be sustainable over time without being culturally unsustainable, it is the tourists who play the most important role.
Some sustainable routes in Tanzania
The routes that you will see in Trip to Help are made with empowered Maasai communities, which together with local NGOs, organize these visits, with the approval of the community. In addition, the benefits of these visits have repercussions for the entire community, in the form of education, health, food, improved sanitation and the improvement of water wells.
If you want to know the Maasai culture in a responsible and respectful way you can see the following links of sustainable travel in Tanzania:
- 6 days of Safari and Maasai immersion in Tanzania
- Get to know the Maasai culture from the inside.
- Or opt for a safari and then a Maasai dive.
2- Choose sustainable accommodations during your trip to Tanzania.
Look for accommodations that are committed to social and environmental sustainability. Some eco-lodges have a ban on plastics, have water reuse policies, generate electricity with solar panels and also provide jobs for local people. Take a look at it.
If you go to sustainable accommodations you ensure that you are contributing positively to the maintenance and development of the local economy. An example of sustainable lodging is the Masai Lodge to get to know the Masai culture from the inside, in the northern region of Tanzania. It is a lodge built and managed by the Maasai, which provides work for the Maasai community and dedicates its profits to the social projects of the NGO that owns the lodge in the community.
And obviously, plastics are forbidden and the food is 100% natural and local.
Both accommodations can be booked through Trip to Help. Contact us for more information.
3- Learn about wildlife and environmental conservation.
Tanzania is known for its safaris, and the nature of its national parks and nature reserves. Tourists seek to see animals in the wild, such as the Big Five. There are companies that work with local guides such as the Maasai, with great knowledge of the native flora and fauna, their rhythms and cycles, who support conservation and avoid harassment of animals.
Learning from a Maasai is doubly rewarding, since they are the ones who have lived with these animals for centuries and centuries, who better than them to teach us about their territory, wildlife and environmental conservation.
4- Contributes to the protection of the environment
If you want your trip to Tanzania to be as sustainable as possible, try to reduce your environmental impact. For example, do not use plastic bottles (you can bring reusable bottles with filters). Or walk or cycle on journeys where the car is avoidable and be aware of your daily consumption habits. An example: it is not sustainable to eat fish in the middle of the Serengeti National Park, because if they offer it to you, it is only for the tourists. Locals only eat the food available in the territory, and fish in Tanzania is eaten in the coastal area, in Zanzibar and in and around Kigoma.
The importance of sustainable travel to developing countries such as Tanzania
As mentioned above, when visiting a developing country it is even more important that our trip is sustainable. Going to Norway, a country with a very high GDP per capita, is not the same as traveling to Tanzania or another African country.
- There is generally greater environmental vulnerability: Developing countries often face greater environmental challenges such as deforestation, water pollution or biodiversity loss. In addition, having fewer resources and less capacity to mitigate negative environmental impacts makes them more vulnerable. So if we travel to Tanzania, it is up to us to reduce our environmental impact and support the conservation of natural resources.
- Increased social vulnerability: As mentioned in previous sections, local communities in countries such as Tanzania face poverty, lack of access to clean water, education and health care. By choosing to travel in a supportive and responsible way, such as staying in places that directly support the community, we will be contributing to their sustainable development and improving their quality of life.
- Positive economic impact: sustainable tourism should have a mostly positive impact on local communities, creating gainful employment, business opportunities, and economic and social justice. It is not only about having local suppliers. Also about having them organized as a NGOs so that the benefits of tourism are shared among the community.
In summary, when we travel it is important to be aware of our impact on the territories visited, but it becomes even more relevant when we go to developing places such as Tanzania, as our impact can be even greater, both positive and negative. It is important to make an effort to be more socio-environmentally conscious and responsible when traveling to countries like Tanzania.
If you want to see different options for respectful and sustainable travel in Tanzania you can see them in the following link: