Zainab Ansell is a Tanzanian based business magnate, investor, philanthropist, humanitarian. She started ZARA Tours in 1987, organizing African safaris and climbs to Mount. Meru and Mount. Kilimanjaro.
Today, ZARA Tours are Tanzania’s No.1 Kilimanjaro outfitter and one of the biggest safari operators. Zainab also runs a hotel chain that consists of 9 properties. 7 under the Tanzanian wild-camps umbrella and two separate hotels.
In 2009 she launched Zara Charity, giving back to marginalized communities in Tanzania and making her footprint in the global movement for sustainable tourism development.
She has also launched Zara foundation for ecosystems preservation. Advocating for land and marine biodiversity conservation with her focus being on cleaning up the Indian Ocean.
I looked at the mountain and got inspired to sell it and safaris -@Zainabansell Click To Tweet
How did you manage to create a niche for yourself in a male-dominated industry?
I worked with Air Tanzania for 8 years before launching my own business. The beginning was tough, however, I was ambitious despite the harsh reality of inequality being a woman in a male-dominated society.
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 three years I started to see a decline in the business. I looked at the mountain and got inspired to sell it and safaris.
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.
I watched the business gradually progress in 1987, 88, 89 and here we are today as the No.1 Kilimanjaro outfitter and one of the biggest safari operators in East Africa.
What is your biggest achievement?
My biggest achievement is being able to send people to Kilimanjaro, however, in the beginning, my biggest hurdle was accommodation. I always visualized my business as a one-stop shop. In the year 2000, I was able to become that.
I opened up my very own hotel – Springlands Hotel. This refined my product, allowing me to give my clients their best value for money. The hotel also serves as a base for Mount Kilimanjaro trekking.
Zara became a one-stop shop and my business became better organized. The launch of spring lands hotel led me to further venture into the hospitality industry in order to support both Mountain trekking and Safaris.
Today Zara properties include Springlands and the award-winning Tanzania Wild Camps hotel chain that consists of 7 facilities Located across Tanzania’s most classic safari hotspots; Highview Hotel Karatu, Highview Coffee Lodge, Serengeti Wild Camp, Ngorongoro Wild Camp, Serengeti – Ikoma Wild Camp, Serengeti Safari Lodge, Serengeti Wildebeest Camp.
You’ve managed to run your businesses for over 31 years, what has been your secret so far?
I can not pinpoint one secret, however, I could sum it up as personalized services and teamwork. I attribute a lot of my success to my family, my spouse, my children and my staff.
At Zara, we are a family. Happy staff and happy customers are our priority.
How have you been able to adapt to the different changes within the industry and also personnel changes and still manage to succeed?
Change is a constant factor, Tanzania is a developing country, with very high taxation rates. It has a very competitive tourism sector with thousands of operators and an unpredictable political environment that changes with every regime.
We have seen lots of different tourism ministers, however, through it all, we have managed to survive and also because we’ve been able to give back through Zara Charity.
How did you get accustomed to the new world of using digital marketing for your business?
It’s not been easy, however being open-minded and having the right staff has simplified the transition for me. I get educated people in the right places and I also learn and catch up with what’s trending.
Knowing what you know today, what would you have done differently during your career?
In the beginning, I did so much. In fact, I would everything myself. Now I wish I would have delegated more.
What is the one motivation that gets you up every morning?
I wake up at 5:15 am every morning, say a prayer and do 5 km walk. After, that I am ready for the day. This routine keeps me motivated and eager to start the day ready for anything “bring it on!”.
It helps me sail smoothly and well before I know it the day is over and I thank God.
Talking about motivation, why was it important that you started Zara Charity?
Over the years I have always given back to the community, I am humbled to have been able to help a lot of people. I started Zara Charity in order to keep track of and formalize what I am doing.
We do a lot to empower the community through the charity. During low season we focus a lot on the charity. We provide free education to a marginalized community, give money to women with no interest, started a porters society where we teach them about health, how to prevent HIV, and how to save their money.
The organization also opened up bank accounts for them and gave them health insurance. We have a center for marginalized maasai women where we financially empower them to make bead crafts which they sell to tourists.
Also, Zara Charity trains and provides opportunities for the youth in our hospitality division. All this is in efforts to positively impact the society we operate in.
As a successful woman with many businesses, what do you do to unwind and ensure that the next day you are still up and running?
I do a lot of meditation in the evenings, I spend time with my family this helps me switch off from the day. Unwinding can be challenging but despite the challenges, every day is an interesting opportunity to make a difference.
Which social media platform is your favorite?
My favorite social media platforms are Linkedin and Instagram. Catch me on the gram @zainbAnsell.
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