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Speech by His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan At the official Opening of the Zanzibar Serena Inn 1997-03-15

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Event - 1997-03-15
Saturday, 1997, March 15
Aga Khan IV (H.H. Prince Karim)

Zanzibar, Tanzania
March 15, 1997
Your Excellency President William Mkapa,
Your Excellency President Salmin Amour,
Honourable Ministers,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests

It is with very great pleasure that I welcome you today to the opening of the Zanzibar Serena Inn. Let me express My sincere gratitude to His Excellency The President of the United Republic of Tanzania Mr. Benjamin Mkapa for having honoured us by accepting to perform today's ceremony. Only nine months ago His Excellency performed similar ceremonies at three new Serena lodges at Ngorongoro, Serengeti and Lake Manyara. There he made a remarkable speech about Tanzania's commitment to the development of tourism and the strategies that his Government intended to follow to optimize the return on this activity to Tanzania's economy without jeopardizing the sensitive, ecological balance of the nation's exceptional game parks.

I interpret the President's presence here today as the reconfirmation of his commitment to the leisure industry as the source of the national economic growth and of his determination to ensure the highest environmental standards. This time, however, what has to be protected is Zanzibar's historic Stone Town rather than the natural habitat of Africa's wildlife.

This project, conceived some four years ago and promoted by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development - AKFED- reflects the collaboration begun some years earlier between the Government of Zanzibar and AKFED for the development of Zanzibar's tourism industry. AKFED is the economic development agency of the Aga Khan Development Network and acts as a catalyst for enterprise development principally through promoting private sector initiative. Its policy is to invest significant equity in the projects it promotes and to provide itself, or ensure, rigorous on-the-ground management. Its mission is to be an active, entrepreneurial risk-sharing partner.

The agency will invest alone or with local or international partners in new projects or ones it selects to revive or enterprises to be privatised. I am most happy that we have as partners in this venture the International Finance Corporation, the Commonwealth Development Corporation and as our principal local lenders, the Tanzanian Development Finance Corporation.

The Zanzibar Serena Inn, in addition to the three Serena lodges in northern Tanzania, and the tented camp at Kirawira in western Serengeti, represent an investment in the tourism sector of the United Republic of nearly $40 million and constitutes what must be one of the largest, private-sector investments made in tourism in this part of the world for many years.

The Zanzibar Serena Inn is a trail-breaker for the Aga Khan Development Network. It is the first time that two of the Network's apex institutions, AKFED and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, have worked in close collaboration on a tourism project. A.K.T.C. made a significant grant of $750,000 to enable this project consisting of two renovated buildings to be designed and the adjacent exterior spaces planned and landscaped in the appropriate language for the Inn's important position at the end of the sea-wall of Forodhani Park. AKFED and A.K.T.C also collaborated closely on the rehabilitation of Kelele Square, on which this Inn lies. And one could argue I think, that we are inaugurating today not just a small hotel, but in fact something more important for the Stone Town - a most carefully crafted mini-urban redevelopment.

The two structures constituting the Zanzibar Serena Inn, were as Prince Amyn has described, severely dilapidated when this project was begun. Now, while still fitting elegantly into their Stone Town surroundings, they are expected to play a major role in the social life of Zanzibar Town, acting as a meeting place of local and foreign inhabitants alike. The Zanzibar Serena Inn is, I believe, a real-life demonstration of how two minor, yet interesting and not insignificant, architectural examples that risked falling irremediably into costly disrepair and disuse, can be given new life and made to play a vital part in the re-awakening economic and social mainstream of the urban area they dominate and of the island itself.

This is a far cry from restoration for restoration's sake, just as it is from the effective destruction by insensitive promoters of a country's architectural patrimony for immediate and exploitative financial benefit, essentially to the promoters themselves. The remedia is possible. You have before you an example of it today.

Since the diminution of its clove industry, tourism represents for Zanzibar a major potential source of earnings and in particular, foreign exchange. For most westerners, the name of Zanzibar echoes with a magical romanticism. The image is further reinforced by the meandering streets of the Stone Town, by the beauty of the beaches of these islands and by the spectacular wealth of the marine life. This city was selected by UNESCO as one of the world's 100 most important historic urban concentrations. And Zanzibar can therefore appeal simultaneously to cultural tourism and to beach-resort tourism and need not be dependant on either one. In turn, this also implies, of course, that it is essential that Government undertake a careful, planned and controlled restoration and maintenance of the Stone Town, its buildings and its infrastructure. No less important is the protection of the fragile ecology of Zanzibar and its neighbouring islands. These shorelines are subject not only to cyclical, seasonal change, but also to more profound and enduring transformations. Sand erosion, stagnant dirty water, the proliferation of weeds and other such problems must be studied and controlled.

They are, unfortunately, all the more probable on a small island such as Zanzibar when the causes can stem from local agriculture, activities directly related to tourism, inadequate or inappropriate urban infrastructure and natural phenomena. From the outset, therefore, it seems essential that a proper balance be found both in the Stone Town and at the coast, between a tourism-offering aimed at the top of the market and one aimed at the middle market or lower. These different level offerings, if properly planned, can grow simultaneously and in harmony. The temptation to go for numbers at the expense of quality, such as promoting middle or low-market tourism and to under-provide up-market facilities must be resisted if the experience and mistakes of other single-level coastal resort developments elsewhere are to be avoided. Well thought-out mid and long-term planning in this sense needs to be set in place and implemented consistently. The high-yield segment of the market will shy away from destinations which they feel are dominated to almost exclusivity by other segments and where they consequently do not feel welcome or at ease.

Other lessons from other experiences in this region can also be learnt regarding, for instance, security, over-crowding, dubious operating practices and basic infrastructure weaknesses. In this shrinking world of communications and alternative, competitive holiday destinations, word of mouth can have a major impact on who chooses what destination for his or her leisure time. A bad reputation can, all too quickly, lead to falling levels of visitation, decreasing expenditure by visitors and the ensuing weakness of many of the smaller entrepreneurs who are, or wish to take part in the country's tourism industry. Empty hotels breed empty hotels.

Tomorrow, His Excellency President Amour will perform the opening ceremony of the Old Dispensary which has been restored under the Historic Cities' Support Program of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The Zanzibar Serena Inn and the Old Dispensary represent significant commitments by the economic and cultural agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network. The two buildings are located at the opposing ends of the ocean front which encompasses Forodhani Park. And whilst they are strategically located, and both represent replicable case study situations for the old Stone Town, the reality is that neither alone, nor together, can they have the necessary impact to make a major change to the economic and cultural self-sustainability of the old Stone Town. Much more will need to be done by many different individuals, agencies and associations. But My hope is that these two important initiatives will contribute to establishing qualitative standards and the necessary economic momentum to add to the Stone Town's forward movement towards complete economic, social and cultural self-sustainability.

In closing, I congratulate most warmly, and I mean most warmly, all those who have been connected with this important project and in particular the architects, the consultants, the landscapers, the contractor and management and if I may be a little bit inward-looking - My own brother.

Thank you very much

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