AfricaLive: How will the identity of the Arusha International Conference Centre develop in the coming years under your leadership?
Mr Elishilia D. Kaaya: Arusha is home to some of the most acclaimed natural sites in the world such as the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro, and Ngorongoro crater. Our centre is closely associated with these amazing sites because of our proximity to them. We want people to think about these wonders of the world whenever the Arusha International Conference Centre is mentioned.
AfricaLive: As far as positively impacting the community and selling Tanzania as a tourist destination, what are the strategic goals you have set and wish to accomplish in the coming years?
Mr Elishilia D. Kaaya: We have the mandate of being a key enabler and facilitator of business tourism in Tanzania. The country is fiercely competing as a tourist attraction and with the conference centre in place; we can accommodate more visitors. We accommodate people who come for business meetings and also those who come to enjoy the natural endowments we have here. The centre also benefits the community because of the positive effect visitors have on the local economy.
AfricaLive: What is your long term vision for developing Tanzania’s business tourism offering?
Mr Elishilia D. Kaaya: Our vision is to create a road map for the development of this sector in the country. As far as I am concerned, this sector still has a lot to accomplish to reach its full potential. As you may know, we also run a similar facility in Dar es Salaam known as the Julius Nyerere international convention centre. That centre just successfully hosted the thirty-ninth SADC head of states summit.
We are looking to develop many more such centres all over the country to boost business tourism and conferences in the future. We are currently scouting areas like Zanzibar, Dodoma, Mwanza, and also the southern part of Tanzania that is rich in natural endowments. As the only public organisation in the country dealing with business tourism and conferences, we feel it is high time other parts of the country also partake in the share of this huge cake.
AfricaLive: What are the short to medium-term goals in your road map for the tourism sector?
Elishilia D. Kaaya: We are currently working on building a state of the art conference centre here in Arusha to replace the old facility we are currently operating from. This plan is still in its formative stage. We are currently looking at the building designs and once the facility is ready and commissioned, we will move on to Dodoma to set up a similar centre. We will then begin to look at Zanzibar and subsequently other areas of the country.
AfricaLive: Africa gets a lot of bad press in the international media. I am sure when you meet foreigners, their perception of the continent is usually very different from the reality, is that the case?
Elishilia D. Kaaya: Yes, unfortunately, there is a lot of negativity about Africa, most of which is based on lies. Those of us who live in the continent know what a marvellous place it is. It is our responsibility as Africans in this industry to clear the air and showcase Africa’s brilliance to the world.
AfricaLive: As discussed at the recent Africa Tourism Forum, there is often a gap between the marketing vision sold to tourists and the level of service received in destinations. What approach can the Arusha international conference centre and the tourism industry in the country take to build a culture of excellence in the region?
Elishilia D. Kaaya: It would be great if you came over to Tanzania to appreciate the work we have done to ensure the gap is closed as soon as possible. We have some limitations as far as the number of international standard hotels available, and we are working hard to remedy that. We are positive that once we erect the new Arusha centre more quality hotels will be built around that area. This will be replicated in other Tanzanian cities once we have completed the centres in those cities.
AfricaLive: Even with the establishment of the African free trade area agreement that offers an opportunity to grow intra-African tourism, we still see that Africa only receives three per cent of global tourism revenue. What steps can be taken to accelerate the growth of intra-African tourism?
Elishilia D. Kaaya: We must rid ourselves of the colonial yokes of borders. Africans are one people and there should be unity. We don’t need these borders that were created to put in place mechanisms to control us. The regional groupings on the continent that have been formed such as the SADC and ECOWAS are precursors for a united Africa. A united Africa will boost interior engagement between countries.
AfricaLive: Where do you see the potential to increase collaboration between African countries and organisations that will lead to the development of the tourism sector in the continent?
Elishilia D. Kaaya: There is tremendous potential if we connect all the countries on the continent by road. This will enable our people to move freely from one African country to another. It will also pave the way for greater intra-African collaboration and engagement. Our airline networks also need massive improvement; it’s ridiculous that an African has to fly to Europe first to get access to some African countries by air.
AfricaLive: What is your strategy for working with other institutions and industries?
Elishilia D. Kaaya: Having a strong presence all over the continent is something I admire. Once the right partnerships are made we will be on the same page as a continent as far as business tourism is concerned. When it comes to business tourism we are also trying to end the practice of working in silos. Regions like Northern Africa and West Africa have been doing that a lot. Here in SADC want to end that by being the most active bloc with a wide reach throughout the continent.
AfricaLive: What can the industry do to ensure a balance between economic growth, the sustainability of the environment, and the community?
Elishilia D. Kaaya: We have to start placing more of an emphasis on domestic tourism. Our people must also be encouraged to visit our amazing natural sites even as we strive to bring in foreign visitors. We have to do a lot of work internally to ensure that local visitors are enticed to participate in tourism just like we do foreigners.
AfricaLive: A lot of African nations are experiencing tremendous growth in their tourism industries. How is the Tanzanian market looking like at the moment?
Elishilia D. Kaaya: The Tanzanian market is growing fast because we are improving our infrastructure. Someone who last visited our country ten years ago will be pleasantly surprised at the developments we have made. Our national airline which was down for a long time is now back, enabling us to bring in more visitors with our national carrier. Our road infrastructure is also much better now compared to previous years. We are steadily preparing the country for the big time when it comes to business tourism.
AfricaLive: What would success look like to you in the next five years?
Elishilia D. Kaaya: Success to me will be seeing our hospitality institutions offering exemplary service that is appreciated by both foreigners and locals.
AfricaLive: Most countries in Africa have gone through transition periods and had their ups and downs. How confident are you about the future of Tanzania?
Elishilia D. Kaaya: I am confident about the future of Tanzania because certain things are very unique to us. We are a very peaceful country where people live and work together in harmony. There is no civil tension despite the diversity of language and tribes because one language, Kiswahili, unites us. We also blessed with natural resources which we are all out to exploit for the benefit of the people.
AfricaLive: If you had one message for African and the world, what would it be?
Elishilia D. Kaaya: I would like to tell my colleagues in the tourism business to focus on showcasing our continent in the best way possible because no one will do it for us. To the world, I would like to say that most of what is promoted about Africa in the media is not true. You should come here for yourselves and see what we have to offer.