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Friday, 30 November, 2018, 15 : 06 PM [IST]

‘The view about Zanzibar will change once we are able to attract Indian film industry’

Zanzibar is looking at imparting professional training to create skilled manpower for its tourism industry, and in this direction, India can play a crucial role, believes Mahmoud Thabit Kombo, Minister for Information, Tourism & Heritage, Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar. According to him, time is opportune to tap film production units from India to create awareness about Zanzibar among the Indian population. He talks to Disha Shah Ghosh about a range of topics.

Q What is the scenario of tourism in Zanzibar from the Asian market in general and India in particular?
From 1990 to 2000, the growth of tourism in Zanzibar was tremendously high, much more than what the government could cope up with. Since 2000, the government put a dedicated master plan in place. According to the latest statistics, while Tanzania records around 1.3 million tourists, Zanzibar receives half a million tourists a year. However, if one takes into account the per capita ratio, Zanzibar is higher than Tanzania mainland.

Since a long time, Zanzibar’s top most source market has been Europe because of the colonial linkages, followed by Middle East because of the Oman rule. Asia was still a virgin territory as a tourism source market. However, the linkage with India particularly is over 500 years old because of the trade relations. The coasts of Goa, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu were our trading routes, and the Goan influence is visible in the 300-year-old Roman Catholic Church in Zanzibar. Indians travelled to Zanzibar for business, teaching, spice farming and plantation and the peoples movement continued to surge. The biggest Gujarati and Goan population in East Africa back then was in Zanzibar. That’s why, in Zanzibar, we have fifth and sixth generations of Zanzibaris with Indian origin.

Q Why did the Zanzibar government appoint a representation in India? What is your global market plan in the current volatile atmosphere?
In 2005, after our current President came to power, he realised that we haven’t really explored India for tourism despite the cultural and historical linkages. Our focus till then was largely on Europe also because of their investment in our country. Therefore, it was decided to have a representative in key Asian markets and the first country was India.

We decided to appoint Jilesh Babla as our representative here because he is well aware of the Indian market and is also a third generation Zanzibari. Currently, we are recording around 7,500 to 8,000 tourists from India annually. Our focus now is to increase this number since we are much closer to Indians culturally and also in food preferences. We have seen a gradual increase in tourist numbers since Jilesh came onboard. However, what we have realised is Indians tend to visit destinations that they are familiar with. Most Indians are unaware of where Zanzibar is and its offerings. We are working towards bridging that gap and create awareness about culture, heritage and the tourism product we have to offer.

We have noticed an increase in Indians coming to Tanzania for safaris. This is also because a couple of films have been shot in Tanzania. Once we are able to attract the Indian film industry, the view of Indian tourists towards our country will change since movies provide a window to the world.

Our President had envisaged how the world would change and therefore it was decided to have a diverse market strategy in place. The focus on Asia was a step in that direction. The direct charter flight from China is doing well. We have recorded an increase in tourists from the Middle East with direct connections by Oman Air and Qatar Airways. Ethiopian Airlines has helped in bringing in good number of tourists. We haven’t ignored South America either because the spending power of their middle income group has increased. Europe, however, still continues to remain our No 1 source market.

Q There is an impression that Zanzibar is an expensive destination, your views?
At the moment, we are looking at attracting high-end tourists and not become a mass market. Zanzibar is a small destination in terms of size. We would reach a saturation point if we receive 700,000 tourists annually. Also, the service and products we offer are in the premium category.

Q What kind of opportunity do you see from India in terms of investment?
The Zanzibar government has realised that skilled manpower will be the backbone of our tourism economy. Therefore, the government is proactively working towards imparting training and education, and this can be a perfect opportunity for India. We need lecturers from India since the Indian hospitality is among the best in the world. In fact, nearly 5,600 students from Tanzania are studying in India. However, India has its own shortage and therefore, export of talent is an issue.

Q What kind of benefits are you expecting with the launch of Air Tanzania Mumbai – Dar es Salaam flights?
We are in discussions with the trade associations in India to attract small investment conferences from India, which are our main focus. If we are able to secure 30% of slots on these aircraft for tourist flow to Zanzibar, which would include leisure travellers, honeymooners and weddings, we will be able to create a footprint in the Indian market at a much larger pace. Moreover, we have received interests from tour operators for some exemptions for film shoots. Looking at the economies of scale, we will be happy to consider these requests on case to case basis. Also, as a destination, we need to prepare ourselves for such long stay visitors.

Q The soaring oil prices and the currency fluctuations are bound to impact tourist traffic. How is Zanzibar geared to address this?
Our economists are working on this and the Central Bank of Tanzania is doing a great job to stabilize the currency and absorbing the shock. In fact, the Tanzanian Shilling to the US Dollar exchange rate has been stable for quite some time. However, oil importation per litre cost has increased, and adequate measures are being put in place to address concerns.
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