Africa: Unheeded expert on tourism in Tanzania- Rugimbana
TO the management of Arusha Primary School, tours to the globally renowned Serengeti and Ngorongoro national parks, were merely for educational purposes. For that matter, hardly one knew that school tours ,imparted tourism passion to schoolboy Richard Obadiah Rugimbana.
“I found myself fascinated by the landscape and wild game gazing at national parks,’’ Rugimbana recalls, as he associates his schooldays with his passion for tourism, the sector he has worked for after he completed studies at the University of Dar es Salaamin 1974.
The expert in tourism management later pursued further studies in personnel management and industrial relations in the UK and tourism marketing and promotion in Tokyo, Japan.
Though he has spent 44 years in Tanzania’s tourism industry, Rugimbana’s vigour to witness the number of local tourists surpasses that of international tourists, as the number of international tourists doubles still haunts him profoundly.
His tourism-life story started with the Tanzania Tourist Corporation in 1974 rising through the ranks to head the organisation as general manager. The tourism expert briefly served in the Tanzania Tourism Board as managing director before moving to the private sector in 1994.
As former first chairman of the East Africa Tourism Platform, a private sector apex body formed by five tourism private sector umbrella bodies from the five Member States of East African Community (Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi), Mr Rugimbana has a comparative advantage in contrasting tourism levels of individual countries within the region.
He is currently the Executive Secretary of the Tourism Confederation of Tanzania (TCT). TCT is the umbrella organisation representing the private business sector involved in travel and tourism.
Being the voice of private travel and the tourism sector, TCT is duty-bound to ensure, appropriate macro-policies and strategies are adopted for developing and maintaining an enabling environment in which international and domestic tourism will prosper as the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) forecasts that Tanzania will double the number of international tourists by 2028.
Despite being recently appointed the co-chairperson of the Tourism Branding Committee, Mr Rugimbana prefers working quietly behind-the- scene although he has virtually been an expert and a “walking institutional memory” at many key tourism meetings in and outside Tanzania.
Far from his history of twice being Chief Executive Officer of tourism public organisations, Rugimbana is not nostalgic for the past history instead he has used his experience in the public sector to prompt the formation of public-private dialogue on tourism (PPD), a rare phenomenon in a bureaucratic country.
“If you want to meet me, please, comet early in the morning,” Mr Rugimbana will always tell his visitors at “Utalii House” in Dar es Salaam, not for mimicking, the reigning motto of “Hapa Kazi Tu”, but out-of an-in-born working style.
Sitting in his small office, devoid of air-condition and supported just by few, but highly efficient staff members, Mr Rugimbana frequently keeps an eye on the World Trade and Travel Council (WTTC) Website to satisfy his curiosity to know and share with colleagues on how Tanzania is rated by the global tourism and travel authority.
Although some stakeholders he is sharing the global information with don’t always quote him rightly, the Tanzanian tourism expert remains unoffended. At least they acknowledge that, “we are in global competition,’’ Mr Rugimbanasays.
Saddened by a fall of Tanzania in WTTC’s index on natural assets from number two in 2011 to number 8 this year, Rugimbana has advised the fifth phase government to take action on manmade destruction of natural tourism assets.
Tourism experts concede that notable efforts have been made to curb poaching, but more is still needed to crack down on encroachment, livestock grazing in parks, bush fires and dynamite fishing.
Rugimbana has been instrumental in providing evidence–based data to address challenges facing Tanzania’s tourism sector. “It’s the figures we shared with our colleagues in the team, which helped us to come up with concrete proposals,’’ he notes.
Supported by BEST-Dialogue, the private sector has engaged a consultant to help the private sector work on the challenges and recommendations presented to the government in the first draft of the blueprint.
Rugimbana has championed several advocacy campaigns, projects and evidence-based studies in tourism development and marketing and the most recently has been instrumental in writing the development of an international marketing strategy for Tanzania and double the growth rate of Tanzania’s tourism sector.
Three years ago, TCT under Mr Rugimbana was tasked by the government to work together with the public sector in identifying challenges hindering Tanzania from increasing international tourists from over one million to tenfold, resulting in a tourism report, which was endorsed by the government.
Working hand-in-hand with TCT, the private sector succeeded in convincing the government to drop VAT on tourism services, successfully arguing that as long as the private sector is doing well, itis crucial to maintain VAT exemption.
However, behind the instrumental role played by TCT, there is BEST-Dialogue, a programme that provides funds for private business institutions to help conduct concrete researches on factors that make doing of business difficult and propose to the government evidence-based solutions.
Rugimbana says with only 12 TCT members, the organisation faces sustainability problems in meeting basic operations, thus BEST-Dialogue support has been instrumental in creating a good impart on the tourism sector.
When it comes to projects with BEST-Dialogue, if anything the programme has been able to give us, is the position to be reckoned by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), Parliamentary Standing Committees and other institutions,” Rugimbana says.
“TCT has conducted at least 12 evidence-based studies in the tourism sector, all supported by BEST-Dialogue, the studies have empowered us to compile a list of taxes from national to district levels to prove that our licensing system needs to be reviewed,” he says.
The tourism expert calls on stakeholders in both public and private sectors to commit themselves to implementing viable proposals made in various studies if they want Tanzania to double the number of tourists.