Meet Zainab Ansell: Tanzanian prominent female tour operator

The founder and CEO of Zara Tanzania Adventures’ story is one of tenacity, vision, and unwavering faith in oneself.

THURSDAY May 23, 2024

From Left, Ms Zainab Ansell jubilates Africa’s leading tour operator Tanzania leading company 2023 with her daughter, Ms Leyla Ansell. PHOTOS | FILE

By Adam Ihucha

The Tranquility News Correspondent, Tanzania

In the bustling, green and hygienic town of Moshi on the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro there’s a story that inspires foreign tourists and Tanzanians alike.

This is the story of Zainab Ansell, probably one of unsung heroines of our time.

Zainab is an extraordinary female whose unyielding spirit and determination enabled her to overcome personal doubts, among other odds, to penetrate into the male-domain tourism industry.

In 1986, Zainab Ansell made a life-changing decision. She called it quits to a secure job as a sales executive at Air Tanzania, the state-run airline, to set her sight on a near-impossible dream at the time.

Zainab knew her decision was a gamble, the hesitation which was palpable when she submitted her resignation letter.

With a voice touched by uncertainty, she asked her boss to consider reinstating her in case her new venture—establishing her own tour and air-ticketing outfit—did not pan out.

The founder and CEO of ZARA Tours, Ms Zainab Ansell, poses for a picture with some tourists. Her company offers its clients an opportunity for making a difference to host communities by engaging in various activities, including tree planting. 

Her journey began in early morning hours at Moshi Bus Terminal. She was armed with little more than her growing knowledge of Mount Kilimanjaro, air ticketing business and an abundance of determination.

“I started as a flycatcher,” she often recollects, a term that belies the tenacious efforts involved.

Every morning, she would approach volunteers and travelers, using her relentless enthusiasm and persuasive charm to coax them into exploring the majestic beauty of Kilimanjaro.

Yet, it was no easy task. For the first six grueling months, Zainab’s hard work went unrewarded monetarily. The dream she had clung to seemed to slip further away, as she did not earn a penny each passing day.

The glimmer of hope was dim, but Zainab’s resolve was not easily shaken. She remained undeterred, with her actions speaking volumes on the persistence and tenacity she embodied.

The Tanzania’s Prime Minister (Right), Mr Kassim Majaliwa, congratulates Ms Zainab Ansell, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Zara Tours, shortly after she received an award in a past event.

Zainab’s unrelenting efforts eventually paid off. The trickle of clients turned into a steady stream, and her company she established with her family, Zara Tanzania Adventures, began to cement its reputation.

The word of mouth spread on the dedicated woman whose company could provide unparalleled experiences on the Africa’s highest peak.

Over time, Zara Tanzania Adventures grew exponentially, transforming from a fledgling venture into a powerhouse in Tanzania’s tourism industry.

In the years that followed, Zainab Ansell did not just solidify her status as a successful businesswoman; she reshaped the industry.

Ever since she and her family founded it, Zara Tanzania Adventures Ltd has become synonymous with unforgettable experiences in East Africa.

Ms Zainab Ansell (Left), the founder and CEO of Zara Tanzania Adventures, and the Managing Director of  International Travel Agency (ZITA), pose for a souvenir picture shortly after Ms Ansell receiving the Best Tour Operator in Mountain Climbing Award organised by the Tanzania National Parks recently.

The company has built a name for her and itself by providing tailor-made and diverse adventures through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world, including the towering Mount Kilimanjaro and the wildlife-abundant Serengeti National Park.

As a fully integrated tour operator, Zara Tanzania Adventures controls significant aspects of its service chain.

Owning a comprehensive range of transfer and safari vehicles, as well as a variety of accommodation options, including tented camps and lodges in Kilimanjaro, Karatu, Ngorongoro and Serengeti, all within the richest Tanzania’s northern tourism circuit, allows the Zara Tanzania Adventures to cover all logistical aspects of tourism management.

This not only assures guests of seamless and high-quality experiences, but also positions Zara Tanzania Adventures as a competitive entity capable of offering unmatched pricing advantages.

With over 38 years in the industry, Zara Tanzania Adventures has refined its offers, ensuring each journey is memorable and exceeds expectations.

Ms Zainab Ansell, the founder and CEO of ZARA Tours based in Kilimanjaro Region, Tanzania, was named one of 100 Tanzanian changemakers 2023.

With its blend of rich local immersion, responsible tourism, and world-class service, Zara Tanzania Adventures remains a distinguished leader in the East African tourism industry.

Zara Tanzania Adventures continues innovating and tailor making its packages and itineraries to ensure they always resonate with its ‘unforgettable moments and lasting impressions’ pledge.

Zainab believes such improvements will meet diverse tourist demands and enhance each adventure to offer authentic and enriching experiences that highlight the natural and cultural heritage of East Africa.

Sustained recognition at global platforms and its relentless pursuit of excellence actually make the company a quintessential choice for any adventurer looking to explore the wonders of Tanzania and beyond.

Locally, Zainab became one of the Tanzania’s leading female tour operators, creating thousands of jobs and contributing significantly to the economy.

Zara Tanzania Adventures based in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, emerged Africa’s Leading Tour Operator of the year 2022 at the World Travel Award ceremony held in Nairobi, Kenya. PHOTOS | FILE

Her efforts did not go unnoticed; in 2023, she was feted as a leading female taxpayer in Tanzania, her contributions further shining a light on her remarkable journey.

Zainab’s story is one of tenacity, vision, and unwavering faith in oneself. It is a beacon of inspiration, reminding us that every great success story has its roots in persistent effort and the audacity to dream.

Today, as tourists from all over the world embark on their Kilimanjaro adventures through Zara Tanzania Adventures, they walk trails blazed by Zainab Ansell’s indomitable spirit.

Zara Tanzania Adventure’s commitment to quality and service excellence has been recognised repeatedly at the highest levels.

The company has been honoured with the prestigious World Travel Awards in consecutive years, 2022 and 2023, being titled as Africa’s and Tanzania’s Leading Tour Operator.

Ms Leilah Ansell (Right) poses for a souvenir picture with a World Travel Award official (Centre) shortly after Zara Tanzania Adventures, an outfit founded by her mother, Ms Zainab Ansell, received the Africa’s Leading Tour Operator Award. Left is Ms Ansell’s young sister, Ms Rahma Adam. 

This recognition showcases its sustained excellence and leadership in tourism in both Tanzania and the broader African continent.

Deeply embedded in its core values is Zara Tanzania Adventures’ dedication to giving back to the community and to sustainable tourism practices.

Zainab and her family initiated Zara Charity with an eye to stimulate a global movement on sustainable tourism by giving back to the community through the network of the travel industry partners, organisations, travelers and global citizens interested in reaching out to and supporting vulnerable groups in Tanzania.

This approach not only enhances guest experiences but also aligns with global efforts toward conservation and sustainability.

Her gifted hands have changed thousands of lives in Tanzania, as she directly employs nearly 1,410 on both permanent and seasonal basis, sustaining thousands of families in a country where unemployment is among the major social and economic challenges.

ZARA Charity has built a children’s education centre at Pasua, Kaloleni, in Moshi Municipality, Tanzania, which enrolls children aged between three and five years from disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly from pastoralist communities.

Official data puts the rate of unemployment in Tanzania at 2.38 per cent. However, according to the World Bank, each year about 900,000 youthful Tanzanians enter the job market, which is capable of generating barely between 50,000 and 60,000 new opportunities.

Besides addressing unemployment, Zainab is also at forefront in extending a helping hand to the surrounding indigenous community, mostly Masaai.

In her effort to support members of the pastoralist community, she has built a school where children under seven years of age are educated free of charge.

Zainab has not only constructed the school and handed over to the community through the government; she also runs the facility with 95 kids, all from the Maasai nomadic pastoralists, pursuing their dreams in life.

Without the school, the Maasai kids would have nowhere to study.

She has also developed a special window for helping Maasai women in her fresh bid to liberate them from harmful shackles of their traditional norms.

Maasai women make, sell and display their bead work. ZARA Tours has developed a unique window for helping the marginalised Maasai women to liberate them from harmful shackles of their traditional norms.

Zainab is single handedly struggling to address historical injustice compounded by oppression and exploitation towards women.

She has, in addition, been financially empowering the Maasai women to buy raw materials for making beads and selling them to tourists.

As we speak, hundreds of Maasai women are benefiting from tourists’ dollars by hawking beads and carvings along the roads heading for key tourist sites.

Thanks to Zainab’s quest for seeing members of local communities directly get returns for conserving tourist attractions surrounding them for ages.

Zainab and her family has bankrolled first aid training sessions, beginners’ English courses, HIV and AIDS education and financial management training, to mention but a few, to nearly 900 portersΩ

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