$72m Mount Kilimanjaro cable cars deal caught in the crossfire

Travel agents threaten to drop off the mountain in their destinations list

WEDNESDAY February 23, 2022

Mount Kilimanjaro. Key travel agents have threatened to drop off the Africa’s highest peak in their destinations list. PHOTO | ALL AFRICA

By Adam Ihucha

eTN, Tanzania

Strategic international travel agents have raised a red flag against a planned $72-million cable car project on Mount Kilimanjaro, threatening to advise travellers to eschew the Africa’s highest peak.

Way back in 2019, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT) announced a plan that would see a cable car installed on Mount Kilimanjaro as part of its strategy to quadruple annual tourists’ number to the Africa’s highest mountain from 50,000 to 200,000 and reap more dollars.

As it happened, the AVAN Kilimanjaro Ltd, a company 100 per cent owned by six foreign shareholders, has mysteriously been picked to execute the project.

The US-based travel agent, Mr Wil Smith, who has been promoting the Mount Kilimanjaro for two decades now says: “If the proposed cable car project is constructed, we will no longer promote Kilimanjaro as a natural and scenic destination, and we will advise our travelers to avoid the area”.

Mr Smith, who is a director of the Deeper Africa outfitter, says a cable car on Mount Kilimanjaro will be an unnatural eyesore and a public nuisance.

A cable car is a transport system, typically one travelling up and down a mountain, in which cabins are suspended on a continuous moving cable driven by a motor at one end of the route. PHOTO \ THE CITIZEC

Kilimanjaro’s core values are its wild and scenic setting and the challenge of trekking to the summit, he writes to the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Dr Damas Ndumbaru.

“The construction of a high-capacity tourist conveyance will urbanise the mountain and disfigure the landscape. Kilimanjaro will lose its reputation as a grand and beautiful wonder and instead become a cheap and easy distraction of no great consequence,” Mr Smith’s letter reads in part.

The travel agent further argues that it will also be a public health hazard because a cable car rapidly lifting unprepared tourists to extreme altitudes will cause illness, injury, and death.

On his part, the Managing Director of Boss Adventure Treks & Expedition based at Kathmandu in Nepal, Mr Mingmar Sherpa, strongly suggests cable car project to be shelved, citing his country as a living example of how ropeway could be destructive to the trekking industry.

Justifying why he doesn’t support the cable car; he says the value of Kilimanjaro will be compromised because the experience the hikers get by trekking to the top will not be the same by ropeway.

Porters carry tents, flying toilets and food up the mountain for hikers unaccustomed to the thin air on Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa, rising 5,895 metres above sea level. They believe the cable cars project will deny them of employment. PHOTO | FILE

“We will not feel that pride and cheerfulness of getting to the top. Just imagine getting to the top of the Mount Kilimajaro or Everest by rope way or any other medium, what will be the value”, wonders Mr Sherpa.

He puts it clear that his clients do not prefer to trek in those regions where there are rope ways as they wish to trek and experience nature, enjoy the surrounding, interact with the local people, and so on.

It is as the case with growing cities whereby always people take the easiest way to get from point one to another, whether it is by car, bike, or train, notes Mr Sherpa, adding that he does not think tourists would want to do the same while there are on their holiday to enjoy nature.

“I had an opportunity for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 2019 and I wish my children and the future generation would have the same experience rather than getting to the top by ropeway,” he concludes.

Mr Thomas Zwahlen, the Managing Director of Alpinschule, who has been leading trekker groups on Mount Kilimanjaro from Switzerland for 30 years now, says the purpose of the national park has been to protect the landscape and the unique flora and fauna and to preserve it for the future.

The Big Expeditions and Safaris staff receives the descending London taxi drivers at Mweka Gate recently. The London Cabbies also called on authorities not to consider adding or taking away anything from Kilimanjaro Mountain. PHOTO | FILE

“It is clear that a technical development of the mountain with a cable car is in clear conflict with the goals of the national park. The sustainability of this vision is also clearly questionable,” says Mr Zwahlen in his letter to Dr Ndumbaru.

The tourism development of the Alps in the past, he explains, has taught the world that intact nature and undeveloped peaks are the basis for sustainable development into the future.

“This unique landscape with four different vegetation zones is to give way to commercialisation. While the region is still inhabited up to the park entrance at around 1,800 meters and cultivated with banana, tea and coffee plantations, tropical mountain rainforest, moorland, stone desert and eternal ice continue upwards on a few kilometers. Doesn’t this landscape have to remain protected,” he queries.

“For over 30 years, we have regularly led trekking groups from Switzerland to Africa to Kilimanjaro. We bring work to the local population and appreciate the natural beauty of the national park,” the letter reads in part.

“We urge you to stop the project and thus preserve the unique Mount Kilimanjaro because it is the best and most beautiful figurehead of Tanzania,” he concludesΩ

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