Tanzania targets conference market

Marriott International has rebranded The Arusha Hotel under the Four Points brand following an extensive renovation.
Global brands, like Marriott International's Four Points, have established a presence in major cities like Arusha, Tanzania. Photo credit: Marriott International

As Tanzania looks to expand its reach from leisure travelers to the corporate market, the country is planning new conference facilities to attract large-scale events. But while the country has targeted a number of cities for growth, some observers expressed concern that the current visa structure would prove prohibitive.  

Business Tourism

“We are steadily preparing the country for the big time when it comes to business tourism,” said Elishilia D. Kaaya, CEO of the Arusha International Conference Centre. “Arusha is home to some of the most acclaimed natural sites in the world such as the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro and Ngorongoro crater. Our center is closely associated with these amazing sites because of our proximity to them.

“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. 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 organization 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.”

By the Numbers

The most recent international exit survey of the country found that global tourist arrivals grew 7 percent on the year in 2017 to to 1.3 million compared with 1.2 million in 2016, surpassing the growth rate of 3.9 percent recorded in the previous year. Tourism earnings increased 5.6 percent to $2.3 billion compared with $2.1 billion recorded in 2016, with 85 percent of earnings related to leisure activities. 

Leisure visitors stayed for an average of 10 nights, while business travelers remained in the country for eight. As part of the drive toward pushing the location as a corporate destination, the country hoped to encourage business guests to stay and visit Tanzania’s many natural attractions. More than 25 percent of the country has been allocated to wildlife and conservation, with 16 national parks and 28 game reserves.

The United States was the largest source market, accounting for 14.4 percent of visitors to Tanzania’s mainland, followed by the U.K. at 9.8 percent and Kenya with 9.1 percent of visitors.


The survey found that that conditions of the country’s roads and other infrastructure continue to be the main area of concern to most visitors (42.5 percent). There are efforts underway by the government to address these concerns, including the ongoing investments in the rail and road infrastructure.

Tanzania will continue to invest in its conference facilities and business tourism infrastructure. Key to the strategy is ensuring the facilities are within reach of the main tourism locations, allowing visitors to combine business and leisure visits.

Visa Challenges

The country recently changed its visa application regime, issuing e-visas. The single-entry tourist visa is $50 (the exception being U.S. citizens, who must pay $100), whereas the cost of a business visa is $250. In contrast, Kenya charges both tourists and business travelers $95.

“Tanzania has made it more difficult for itself to attract MICE business through its aggressive pricing of its business visas, which are prohibitively expensive compared with neighboring countries,” David Harper, head of property services, Hotel Partners Africa, told Hotel Management. “As such more international events are being held in other countries, notably Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia.”

If the country is planning on growing its corporate clientele, it may need to put them on a par with its leisure guests.