Editorial: Let's unlock the tourism potential of Mafia Island

Thursday September 20 2018

Tanzania’s Mafia Island in the Indian Ocean is home to giant whale sharks which attract tourists , thereby generating revenue for the country.

Eighteen-metre whale sharks weighing more than 20 tonnes are common, to say nothing of other equally-exotic marine creatures, underwater cliffs, tidal channels, coral reefs and sea-grass meadows. This is exceptional biodiversity.

Mafia is located in the southern circuit of Tanzania and Zanzibar, and is part of a fascinating array of wildlife parks and Indian Ocean islands.

However, sea transport facilities and infrastructure snags, compounded by little marketing, hamper full exploitation of the archipelago’s relatively huge tourism potential. This is despite having an airport of its own, quality hotel accommodations and opportunities for big fish hunting, diving and snorkelling.

Mafia Island is reputedly the second in the world in attracting giant whale sharks, after Mexico. Its whale sharks population is estimated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to have increased from about 100 in 2012 to 180 as of December 2017.

This is a wake-up call to the authorities responsible for infrastructure development to seriously consider connecting Mafia Island with the Mainland through reliable transport facilities so as to accelerate tourism growth. It should be remembered that tourism is already the leading foreign exchange earner for Tanzania, although its immense potential is yet to be fully unlocked.


The sector generates over $2 billion in public revenue yearly, much of that coming from the northern tourism circuit and Zanzibar. Opening up new tourist destinations like Mafia – and widely marketing them – would substantially add to tourist dollars into government coffers.

Transport infrastructure is crucial to sustainable socioeconomic development – if only because it facilitates easy movement of people and goods. As a highly potential tourist destination, Mafia Island should be given priority in the areas which would help in unlocking its economic development opportunities.