Tourism project empowers Tanzanian communities

April 29, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- "Tourism is like fire: it can be used to warm your home and cook your food, but, without constraints, it can burn down your house." This saying, common in the tourism industry, indicates the need for well-planned tourism efforts that empower local communities and promote sustainability.

In 2008, Duarte Morais, associate professor of recreation, park and tourism management in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development, and Ladislaus Semali, associate professor of education at Penn State, ventured to Tanzania to perform fieldwork and devise a system that would improve communities through tourism. They established two efforts, which will be implemented in the coming months: to build a pottery kiln and booth for a local women’s co-op, and to create a training program for local mountain guides.

Using funding from Tourism Cares, Morais, Semali and colleagues in the Tourism Research Lab worked with Sebastian Kolowa University College (SEKUCo) in Lushoto, Tanzania, and the Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, to formulate an action plan. In large part, the plan drew upon what community members and regional stakeholders said they needed most, and this is indicative of the Tourism Research Lab’s philosophy -- that tourism development strategies must empower host communities to improve their livelihoods and well-being.

“We wanted the local community to ‘own’ this project,” says Lindsay Usher, a graduate assistant in the Tourism Research Lab. “Community involvement gives the local communities control over the industry, and ensures that everyone benefits from tourism, instead of just a few individuals.”

The pottery kiln and booth will allow a women’s co-op from a local village, Mtae, to display and sell pottery to neighboring villagers and to tourists that pass by the region in multi-day guided hikes. A portion of the co-op’s revenue goes to community development projects such as improving schools.

The second component of the project was to develop a tour guide training and certification program.

“Tourism has grown significantly in the region, and some individuals are misrepresenting themselves to naïve tourists, tricking them into thinking they are honest, hard-working guides,” says Morais. “The ‘tours’ they guide are more like scams. They keep all the fees to themselves and often put tourists in danger.”

In the program that Morais and his colleagues have coordinated, approximately 40 percent of the fees received from tourists will be recycled back into the community, funding projects such as creating village-owned tree nurseries and improving housing for teachers.

The program teaches best practices in mountain guiding, trip planning and customer care. Guides also learn about the local culture, history, plant life and wildlife. After passing the final exam, guides will receive ID badges and printed red hats that will help differentiate them from rogue guides. 

Thirty-five guides will be trained in April and May 2009 at SEKUCo, the local university. After the summer, SEKUCo will be in charge of certifying future tour guides.

“We wanted to foster the development of an outreach arm in SEKUCo,” says Morais, “so that they could improve on this system as they saw fit, in response to differing needs of the community. Tourism is a huge industry in this region, so it is exciting to see our colleagues harnessing this project to consolidate their academic and outreach mission.”

Other people involved in this Tanzania tourism project include Christine Buzinde, assistant professor of recreation, park, and tourism management, and Deb Kerstetter, associate professor of recreation, park, and tourism management and co-director of the Tourism Research Lab.

For photos from Morais and Semali's experiences in Tanzania, visit

  • The vegetable market in Lushoto, Tanzania. For more photos, click on the image above

    IMAGE: Duarte Morais

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated January 09, 2015