Zanzibar’s women lead the way in wellness tourism against the odds

Unguja. Zanzibar is often referred to as Spice Island, hosting many pioneering wellness companies that are setting high standards in the industry and managed by women entrepreneurs.

Despite high-level endorsements from the top leadership including the President, a survey carried out by The Citizen shows that many hoteliers prefer imported wellness products over locally made alternatives, negatively affecting women-led businesses striving for recognition and market share.

Even with the odds stacked against them, their stories of resilience, innovation, and commitment to sustainable practices are inspiring a new wave of entrepreneurs across the island and beyond.

Inaya Zanzibar, founded by Cheherazad, has established its manufacturing base on the island, dedicating itself to local growth and sustainable practices.

Their all-woman team uses African-grown botanicals, oils, and essences, focusing on organic and wild-harvested ingredients whenever possible.

Another success story is Zuri Rituals, which emerged during the Covid-19 lockdown, Ms Kulsum Jafferji and her husband began their venture from their home kitchen.

Specialising in crafting natural and botanical skincare products, each item is handmade in small batches to ensure utmost freshness and meticulous attention to detail.

Zuri Rituals is deeply rooted in creating job opportunities and managing a production process that prioritises high-quality, sustainable ingredients from East Africa and beyond.

By emphasising natural, locally sourced materials, Ms Jafferji, co-founder of Zuri Rituals, emphasises the importance of natural ingredients.

"We believe that what you put on your body is just as important as what you put in it. That's why we prioritise using natural, locally sourced raw materials," she says.

From humble beginnings with homemade products, Ms Jafferji's vision has blossomed into a full range of skincare items, including oils, scrubs, and creams—all made right here in Zanzibar.

She says that they believe in the pure essence of nature in each product that they offer, in the process championing the beauty and resilience of the local community.

Nuya's Essence, created by Ms Hellen Dausen in her parents' backyard in 2013, continues to thrive.

As a former Miss Universe Tanzania and Forbes 30 under 30 awardee, Ms Ms Dausen started with homemade soap and has expanded to a full range of skincare products that harness the power of simple, effective botanical ingredients for healing and relaxation.

The Mwani Zanzibar in Paje on the other hand, exemplifies the innovative spirit of Zanzibar’s women. Working with the 'Seaweed Mamas,' the centre combines traditional knowledge with skilled artisanal techniques to produce a unique skincare range.

Their product, now available in the USA, is a blend that captures the therapeutic properties of seaweed. However, the preference of some hoteliers to import products rather than support local businesses underscores a significant challenge within Zanzibar’s wellness tourism market.

This practice not only undermines local entrepreneurs, particularly women, but also diminishes the authenticity of the Zanzibar tourist experience.

Local entrepreneurs are calling for government action to foster policies that prioritise local products.

Ms Fatma Mabrouk Khamis, Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Trade and Industries, announced the upcoming launch of the "Made in Zanzibar" campaign.

The initiative is designed to bolster domestic industries by promoting local enterprises and enhancing the visibility of Zanzibar-made products both on the local and global stages.

"We are starting a campaign that will shine a spotlight on our homegrown businesses and help them reach new markets," said Ms Khamis.

The Zanzibar National Chamber of Commerce Chairman, Mr Ali Amour, strongly advocates for all hotels in Zanzibar to incorporate locally made products, "Utilizing locally made products in our hospitality industry is essential."

This approach not only significantly strengthens the local economy but also highlights the importance of creating a sustainable economic cycle that benefits the entire community.

By supporting Zanzibar's home-grown businesses, we can foster a more resilient and thriving local marketplace, ensuring long-term prosperity for the region.

Another entrepreneur who preferred anonymity believes it should be within the Zanzibar Investment Promotion Authority (ZIPA) mandate to ensure the use of Zanzibar-made products in hotel spas when issuing permits, as many top hotels currently opt for products from South Africa and France.

These enterprises do more than just bolster the local economy; they empower women by placing them at the forefront of the burgeoning wellness tourism sector in Zanzibar.

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