Authorities of the Zanzibar Archipelago in Tanzania have launched an initiative to promote sustainable tourism in the semi-autonomous region, supported by a broad coalition of the various stakeholders from across the sustainable travel industry involved in the islands.

Hafsa Mbamba, CEO of Grassroots Traveller, a destination management company, is such a stakeholder and has launched travel itineraries incorporating offerings from eco-tourism and volunteer programmes to visits to community based non-profit organisations.

She told Grassroots Traveller: “We hope to strategically position Zanzibar as a value-added beach destination, showcasing its people and both its cultural and natural heritage.

“At the same time, and as a collective, we believe that each of us has the obligation to ensure that the tourism industry benefits both the visitors and the locals.”

While companies focusing sustainable and volunteering elements are already a staple on the African mainland, the intention in Zanzibar is to avoid the frequent trappings of such programmes, which can include unreasonable pricing structures and/or a lack of any real proof of positive impact.

Mbamba herself has an academic background in international tourism management, specifically in sustainable tourism, and she has coupled this expertise with an approach that ensures best practices and the positive impact on local communities are assessed first-hand.

She explains: “There is no denying that some have turned these efforts into money-making machines, but we do thorough research, and work only with locally-based companies that visibly maximise benefit by focusing on a low volume, but high impact methodology.

“The prices of the volunteer programmes are designed to cover the basic operational costs while our main profits derive from other, secondary sources within each holiday package.”

‘Grassroots Traveller’ and other officially organised sea tours have driven ecological CSR efforts as far back as 1991, supporting the conservation of the uninhabited Chumbe Island Coral Park as well as environmental education programmes targeting local schools and visitors alike.

As another example, Grassroots Traveller on the green island of Pemba utilises renewable solar energy to preserve Pemba’s natural charm while emphasising the participation of local communities through direct employment and the encouragement of traditional culture.

Mbamba continues: “There is definitely room for growth in sustainable tourism market, and this is being spearheaded by conscious travellers, though destinations such as Zanzibar are also recognizing that in order for tourism to serve all, it has to both be sustainable and incorporate other sectors – essentially creating linkages that extend beyond tourism.”

For the moment the focus of Grassroots Traveller is one Zanzibar, but in future, Mbamba is certainly considering extending her operations to other areas in mainland Tanzania and across the continent.

She adds: “Our focus is also to boost domestic tourism across the region, and, in the name of ‘utalii kwa wote’ (Kiswahili for ‘Tourism for All’), for every person to understand and appreciate their home environment and positively contribute to their national economies from the grassroots level.”