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African Tourism: What it takes for a woman to make it

African Tourism: What it takes for a woman to make it

Zainab Ansell stole her way to become the leading woman tourism entrepreneur in the male-dominated tourism industry in Tanzania and Africa. She is among the few women business leaders in tourism now, managing and running the biggest tour company in Tanzania.

Working in her office at Zara Tours in Moshi town at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, Zainab is proud to see her company ranking top on the list among local tourist companies established by Tanzanian citizens. Her company is the biggest ground tourist handling company for Mount Kilimanjaro climbing expeditions, also with a chain of tourist hotels and wildlife lodges.

Zainab Ansell has built one of the most successful tourism companies in Africa, and this inspiring woman has succeeded in building tourist business from scratch and has overcome many odds as a woman in Africa.

Her success story started in 1986 when she started her company after working as the Reservations and Sales officer for Air Tanzania Corporation (ATC), Tanzania’s national airline. Narrating her success story, Zainab said that she was born in Hedaru in the Kilimanjaro region among a family of 12 children before moving to Moshi where she has been living.

She had a dream to work as Air Hostess for the national airline before turning to ground tour operators and owner of a chain of hotels.

“My dream was to become an Air Hostess for Air Tanzania Corporation, [and] then [I] got that job. My father was not in favor of my choice, but later I became Reservations and Sales Officer, the job I did for eight years,” she said.

“I had a passion. From a young age, I have always had a great sense of adventure. The opportunity to explore the world’ learn and share about just how dynamic the world is life changing,” Zainab said.

At the beginning of business, Zainab had to face challenges. She could not get business and had to operate with no profit for more than a year with no salaries for her staff.

She struggled to get a license and accreditation by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism and then the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for air ticket selling.

“Getting the licenses and registration was not easy as the industry was aggressive and male-dominated. It took me a whole year to be able to start operating.  I started with a travel agency selling airline tickets as a non-IATA agent.

“In 1986, I got my IATA registration marking the beginning of a promising era. I sold many airlines – KLM, Lufthansa to mention a few. However, within 3 years I started to see a decline in the business. I looked at the mountain and got inspired to sell it and safaris,” she added.

“One day I was taking a cup of coffee, then saw the shining snows of Mount Kilimanjaro to come up with an idea to establish a tour company which is now Zara Tours for selling Mount Kilimanjaro climbing expeditions,” she said.

“Given the fact that technology was not as advanced, I relied on word of mouth to market my business. I would even go to bus stations to solicit clients. The clients I would get would often refer other clients. It is that drive to go the extra mile for my clients that earned me my reputation,” Zainab said.

There was no Internet nor modern communication services to support her business. She depended mostly on telex and telefax to communicate with clients and suppliers.

“I feel humbled and excited to be able to shape people’s adventures and contribute to various perspectives of global diversity by selling memorable experiences. I enjoy what I do, and I always look forward to creating unforgettable and exciting adventures for my clients,” she added.

From the beginning of her fortune, Zainab started her business from scratch as a travel agent in Northern Tanzania’s tourist town of Moshi, selling air tickets for various airlines flying to Northern Tanzania.

“I opened an office in Moshi, just selling tickets for the airlines, before coming up with an idea to establish a full-fledged tour company from scratch. It was a hard-going business in Moshi which is a highly male-dominated area in Tanzania,” she said.

Her company has evolved into Tanzania’s largest Mount Kilimanjaro climbing outfitter and one of the largest safari operators in Northern Tanzania, the prime area for wildlife safaris in East Africa.

The company is currently managing tourists hotels and tented camps, all located in the northern Tanzania tourist circuit, along with VIP trips, honeymoon and regular tours, airport transfer, city-to-city transfer, ground handling services, as well as groups and corporations from all over the world.

“Being a lady has never stopped me. I am grateful to God for a very supportive family. I am very strong-willed, always ready to work hard and was determined to overlook the glass ceiling set by gender to realize my dreams,” she said.

While the setbacks were real and sometimes very challenging, it was her determination that always kept her afloat. In a male dominated industry, she sought to stand out as a hard-working woman. Over the years, she learned to embrace femininity as a competitive edge.

Today, Zara is a one-stop shop for destination Tanzania, and the hotel launched in 2000, Starting with just 3 cars, today the company has a fleet of over 70 four-wheel luxury safari vehicles and employs around 70 mountain guides and approximately 300 freelance porters who belong to their own associations.

A significant number of guides and porters support their families and earn their livelihoods through working with her company. They are also provided with health insurance and helping them to open bank accounts to mention a few and capacity building training to equip them with better skills to serve the international class tourists.

, African Tourism: What it takes for a woman to make it, Buzz travel | eTurboNews |Travel News

In 2009, Zara Charity was launched to give back to the community. During low tourism seasons, the company focuses on the charity through provision of free education to a marginalized community. About 90 Maasai children in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Northern Tanzania are benefiting from the Zara Charity through free education.

Zainab Ansell emerged last year among the top 100 women in Africa, honored for their excellence in tourism development on the continent during the Akwaaba African Travel Market in Nigeria. She received an award for Leaders, Pioneers, and Innovators in the Africa category.

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