While Passion Passport seeks to bridge communities and expand experience through travel, we’re aware that adventuring to far-off places can leave quite the carbon footprint. Our Sustainable Travel Series celebrates eco-travelers, low-impact ways of living, and explorations that honor both people and places. We hope it inspires you to travel with the environment in mind.
The beauty and wonder of Tanzania are truly the things of legend. Of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, three (Mount Kilimanjaro, the Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti wildlife migration) are found in this single dazzling country spanning from the Swahili Coast across forests and savannas to the shores of Lake Tangyanika. But despite its striking aesthetics and abundant natural resources, Tanzania has its challenges.
A Tanzania safari, a Kilimanjaro trek, or a visit to exotic Zanzibar is a dream for travelers around the world, and the tourism industry is a powerful and growing asset to promote the wellbeing of this captivating nation, as well as its people. Growing right alongside it, however, is the need for more sustainable travel practices that ensure maximum benefit for residents and travelers, the local economy and environment, and our planet as a whole. Sustainable travel and development are not new ideas by any means, and they go hand in hand — the latter having been first described in 1987 in Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report.
As the document states, “Sustainable development is development [read: travel] that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Sustainable tourism, like any sustainable business endeavor, balances economic, social, and environmental needs to comprise a “triple bottom line,” as opposed to the more conventional business bottom line of maximum fiscal profit. This concept is becoming an ethical choice for all businesses that care about creating a positive global future, and it’s rapidly gaining popularity.
In fact, tourism operators in East Africa and around the world inherently rely on robust local economic infrastructure, intact and vibrant traditional cultures, and an ecologically sound natural environment for their success. And, locally run and managed initiatives that advocate for place-based culture and enterprises built with ethical business practices are popping up more frequently, allowing for more responsible and sustainable tourism and travel.
An example of this can be found at Kilimanjaro. “Kili” is the highest point in Africa at 19,341 feet (5,895 meters) and the largest freestanding mountain in the world. About 35,000 people attempt the summit of “Everyman’s Everest” each year, but competition among climbing operators has enabled poor working conditions for porters employed by those that are less ethically-minded. Additionally, the natural environment along the seven routes to Uhuru Peak, Kili’s summit, has borne much strain since the first ascent in 1889. In response, organizations such as Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) have been created to better manage the social and environmental challenges created by the climbing tourism industry in the area.
On the ecological side of things, the Kilimanjaro Park Authority (KINAPA) has enacted stronger regulations to protect Kili’s environment, preventing littering, poor group management that causes erosion, and the unregulated collection of firewood for cooking. Still, due to both trekking groups and factors affecting local farmers, Kili has suffered significant environmental impacts, the most evident of which is massive deforestation. Thankfully, a number of organizations have been working on tree-planting projects that reverse erosion and rebuild soil, provide food security and fuelwood availability for farming families, and help restore the area’s biodiversity. Additionally, the native Chagga tribe’s “home garden” coffee farms blend in seamlessly with the forest and are called “the epitome of sustainability” by agricultural experts.
The safari industry in Tanzania is another main draw for travelers, as well as a major factor in the sustainability of its social and environmental vitality. Typical Tanzania safaris take place at one of the 16 protected areas scattered across the country. Differing from the majority of these areas, Ngorongoro Conservation Area is deemed a “multiple land use” zone that seeks to balance sustainability priorities between indigenous peoples, conservationists, and governments. What does this mean, exactly? The semi-nomadic Maasai people who call this area home herd their cattle and goats among every iconic African animal you can imagine, including the famed “Big Five,” all while tourism organizations are working to integrate economic development, health, education, and environmental restoration community development projects as part of their business models.
As islands have their own unique sustainable development and travel elements distinct from those found on the mainland, the Zanzibar Archipelago is no exception. Travel and tourism remain the top sources of revenue for the island, having replaced the ivory and the slave trade of centuries past, but job and resource scarcity continue for many islanders. That said, spice farming endures as it has for hundreds of years, and tracts of protected forest such as Jozani, Masingini, and Muyuni cover much of the island. Aside from tours and conservation efforts in these areas, though, Zanzibar dive operators and marine conservationists also offer education on how to take better care of the island’s fringe and barrier reefs, which both fishers and tourism depend on. What’s more, several cultural organizations are working to preserve Zanzibar’s heritage buildings and teach guests about respectful behavior in and beyond Stone Town, the island’s urban center and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and promote mindful interaction with island residents.
In certain ways, every industry is facing the same challenge when it comes to sustainability. In others, tourism may have the highest calling to live up to, as it stewards both human heritage and natural resources, the cradle of humankind. It is for this reason that it is of the most importance that we travel with open minds, cultivate the habit of listening and observing, and respect the cultures we visit.
In Tanzania, in particular, this means keeping in mind that the unique wildlife, landscapes, and indigenous peoples have been and will continue to be the country’s strength.
If you’re interested in sustainable travel within the country, join the movement and start planning your trip!