Zenji Hotel: A new kind of ethical tourism

Published: 15 August 2011

The craze for green tourism might be old news, but being an ethical traveller isn’t just about being kind to Mother Earth.

Zenji hotel, a bed and breakfast situated in Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar is one of many hotels showing the world the importance of being ‘people-friendly’.

With nine rooms from $35 a night, Zenji prides itself on caring for the local community - providing on the job training to those with no qualifications at all, as well as donating to charities within the town. Suleiman Mohamed has been running the hotel for the past three years with his wife Anneloes.

“We always planned this to be an ethical hotel,” says Suleiman. “We had a bigger plan than this to start with, about starting sustainable tourism on the island. But our partners started to think less and less about sustainability. So then we decided to set up our own small hotel.” Despite the change of plan, the couple carried on convinced that the smallest of hotels could still make the biggest difference.

Growing up in Stone Town, the island of Zanzibar’s biggest town, Suleiman saw first-hand how tourism could bring fresh life into the economy. “I'm so proud of having this hotel here in my home town,” he says. “We create jobs for the local people, the educated and the uneducated. We give donations to projects like rehab centres here on the island. We make a difference.”

Tucked away underneath the hotel is Zenji’s boutique, which supplies gifts and souvenirs from local producers. Even in this corner of Africa, most mementoes are still imported from Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia. With only around 20 per cent of Tanzanians in formal employment, making souvenirs can be a crucial lifeline for a business. The walls of the boutique are lined with necklaces, each bead individually handmade by a female Zanzibari entrepreneur.

In Zanzibar, more than half of the population live below the poverty line. With many parents still struggling to send their children to school, the hotel also offers to train and educate any of the staff at the hotel, who may start work with little or no skills.

Suleiman explains, “Our hotel is different because It's sort of like a training school; we educate a lot of people here. We take in friends of friends who need a job; sometimes people just walk through the door. Of course, for us it's really hard work to take someone off the street and then train them. We try to accept everyone."

With awards from groups such as Hostel Bookers and Trip Advisor lining the walls, Zenji is now looking to expand out across the island – but not everything is set to change. “We will always keep the same values,” says Suleiman. “We are really proud of the team. They make Zenji Hotel happen.”