Arusha — Three villages in Arusha and Kilimanjaro have upgraded their tourism profiles, thanks to cultural tourism promotion.
For a long time, Nkweshoo, Mulala and Chemka villages remained unpopular despite having the cultural tourism potential that could earn the two regions more revenue.
Attractions found in the villages include Chemka hot springs as named by Pare elderly due to having hot water all the time. Nkweshoo Village is well preserved and gets water from the springs of Mt Kilimanjaro. There are caves along Mtondoo River that the Chagga tribe used as a hideout during a war with the Maasai community.
Visiting Mulala Village one may call this area as the ‘Garden of Eden’ since it is well watered and is covered with green vegetation. So, the scenery is magnificent as it is green all the time.
It was until the formation of cultural groups that the three villages’ tourism activities gathered momentum and helped to reduce poverty among villagers.
Tourism activities facilitate the realisation of the government’s objective to attract three million tourists by 2020.
Statistics from the Tanzania Tourists Board (TTB) show that the number of tourists increased from 1.1 million in 2015 to 1.3 million 2016, while the government’s target is to reach 2 million tourists by 2020.
One of the potential areas less exploited is cultural tourism, which a report from United Nations Tourism Organisation (UN-WTO) indicates, it is growing very fast in the world compared to safaris and others.
TTB says cultural tourism is growing very fast because tourists prefer to interact with community members.
The board says on average tourists spend up to 11 days in the country and through the promotion of cultural tourism, the number of days may increase and the government will earn more foreign currency.
How cultural tourism groups add value
Rundugai Cultural Group at Chemka Village in Hai District was established in 2014 after realising opportunities in natural tourism and Chemka hot spring. The cultural group offers a walking village tourism and Masaai dancing. Group Coordinator Ndossy Ndumiaita says most tourists, who visit the country prefer interacting with community members and are interested in local customs, clothes, foodstuffs, songs and dances.
“We have three activities, village walking, Maasai dancing and swimming in the hot spring. So, visitors can choose what they want to see. Charges are different,” he said.
Mr Ndumiaita said before the formation of groups, visitors were mainly visiting springs for swimming because that was the only considered cultural attraction.
“We have seen the power of cultural groups and social media and other platforms in making other attractions known to members of the public,” he said.
Through walking, tourists get an opportunity to visit herbalists and talk to them on the kind of traditional medicine they produce for treating human beings and meet with women cooking traditional foods.
“We also take them to watch Maasai dances, where they also see various cultural practices like food and the way the Masaai tribe lives,” he said.
He said visitors were very enjoying. The group has added value to Chemka hot spring because it has become more popular as the number of tourists visiting the area increases.
He said before tourists were guided by tour operators and the number of visits was small. Since the formation of groups, more than 200 foreign tourists visited the attractions and government could collect Sh30 million as entrance fee.
Nkweshoo Cultural Group Chairperson Stella Shoo says there has been growing interests of tourists to visit historical caves to learn their history. “These caves are in history books, but receive less attention. Hence, no one visitted them. We have decided to renovate them,” she noted.
The group performs traditional dances of Chagga tribe, makes traditional foodstuffs and houses. They also guide cave and waterfall visits.
She said after tourists participated in all activities they finally visited the caves and waterfalls that flowed from Mount Kilimanjaro springs.
Since the group was established in 2014, not less than 150 tourists have been visiting the areas annually. In addition to that the group has already helped four elderly people and pay school fees for 10 children.
Mulala Village in Meru is surrounded by green vegetation that gives the village a suitable climate and comfort to visitors. Agape Cultural Group was established in 1998 to preserve ecosystems by planting trees. Ms Anna Pallangyo organised 10 women to form a cultural group aiming at earning a living and maintaining the beauty of their area.
The group performs traditional dances from Meru tribe, prepares local foods, honey and different types of locally-made cheese.
Visitors also are introduced to the history of the village and the entire life of Meru tribe – how they were living in the past years. Ms Pallangyo’s journey started in 1998, when she initiated a project of producing locally-made cheese and two years later she started the group.
“We have completed the construction of a secondary school and seven room-houses for visitors,” she said.
She explained that during the pick season, her group received mre than 800 tourists whereby some of them came with their tents and sleep for two and three days, learning various traditional dances, while other participated in every step.
How villages benefit from the groups
Chemka Village Chairman Iddi Mtambo said before the group was established, tourists used to visit the area, but not in large numbers compared to three years later after the formation of groups.
He said the village received direct money from entrance fees whereby a local visitor was charged Sh5,000 and foreigner was charged $5.
More than 300 visitors have been visiting a swimming site and learning the history of hot spring water. The moeny collected is injected into various developments projects like school maintenance.
The ongoing project of constructing a village dispensary and other development activities will be implemented through the money collected from Chemka hot spring.
Meanwhile, Nkweshoo Village Chairman Elisamia Shoo said through the group the village had been popular and there were frequent visits to the area.
“We never saw many foreign visitors to our area, but through cultural tourism we see some changes,” he said.
He noted that the group had added value to the caves and waterfalls, which had been abandoned despite their potential.
The TTB cultural tourism coordinator said the sub-sector was growing very fast, according the feedback they receoved from various tours companies.
There are more than 60 cultural groups countrywide and 120 requests have been sent to the board.