The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism Prof Adolf Mkenda made the statement during the second session of the steering committee of REGROW focused on introducing the project to the southern highlands leaders, which was held in Iringa recently.
The government through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism has received funding from the International Development Association (IDA), housed by the World Bank (WB) in the form of a loan to finance the Project.
"The World Bank has signed the loan agreement of about USD 150 million for implementation of project of transforming the tourism sector in southern circuit known as Resilient Natural Resource Management for Tourism and Growth (REGROW)," said Prof Mkenda.
He said that the REGROW project seeks to strengthen the management of protected areas and promote nature-based tourism in Southern Tanzania – known as the "Southern Tourism Circuit (STC)" and contribute to the diversification of livelihoods in selected communities.
Prof. Mkenda elaborated that the REGROW is a six years project that will address some of the key challenges of the "Southern Tourism Circuit" to realize its potential.
These include limited infrastructure inside the Protected Areas, coupled with environmental degradation; insufficient linkages between tourism and rural development; water resources trade-offs upstream of the Ruaha National Park, leading to water scarcity inside the Park, compounded by other climate variability and climate change impacts.
However, Prof. Adolf Mkenda summarized that they want the REGROW project to spread like a wild fire in other areas.
"We don't want our tourism to be in the northern circuit alone but also in the southern circuit, western and lake zones and also in other areas where there are tourist destinations in order to spread tourism opportunities in the country, " he pointed out.
REGRO project coordinator Nsomeni Lusungu Mteleke said the REGROW will also tackle the challenges through investments in key infrastructure, promotion of linkages between sites, positioning of Iringa as gateway town, attraction of private sector investments, branding and marketing, and creation of effective local supply chain linkages.
The "Southern Circuit" includes several national parks (Katavi, Kitulo, Mahale, Udzungwa Mountains, Mikumi and Ruaha), game reserves (with Selous being the largest), two rift valley lakes (Nyasa and Tanganyika), areas of cultural interest, and access to the primary gateway town of Iringa.
He said REGROW will promote investments inside four Protected Areas, considered to be catalytic for the consolidation of the circuit: Ruaha, Mikumu and Udzungwa Mountains National Parks, and Selous Game Reserve.
Mteleke further stated that the tourism sector in the country has seen growth and potential for tourism where by the number increased from 500,000 in 2000 to over one million visitors in 2013 but the most visited destination is northern tourism circuit (NTC) which receives ten times than the STC.
The challenges of STC including limited infrastructure, environmental degradation, rampant wildlife poaching, competing economic activity, management capacity, population growth and climate change.
On his part, Iringa Regional Commissioner (RC) Alli Hapi has thanked the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT) for bringing the REGROW project in the southern highlands regions.
He said that for the long time tourism sector have been concentrating in the northern circuit where destination are well arranged than the southern circuit which is facing the number of challenges.
RC Hapi has advised the people of Iringa and other regions in southern highlands to take business opportunities by investing in hospitality industry like hotels.
He noted that there is challenge of hotels for tourists whereby a lot of hotels concentrated in the town centre with limited services like parking.
"A lot of hotels in Iringa for instance, are built along the business roads with a lot of noise coming vehicles and motorcycles (bodaboda) which discourage most of tourists not sleep in the hotels," he pointed.
He said that economy of tourism does not only visiting the national parks but it is a full package which including cultural, forest, and hotel tourism in the southern tourism circuit.