Hotel project casts doubts over future UNESCO WHS status of Zanzibar’s Stone Town


(Posted 10th June 2014)

The status of Zanzibar’s ancient Stone Town as a cultural World Heritage Site, accorded in 2000 by UNESCO, will be coming under scrutiny in the run up to the next UNESCO General Assembly which will be held in Doha in July. A committee of experts will in particular look at growing complaints about the construction of a new hotel in the very heart of the Stone Town, which is one of the greatest tourism attractions Unguja Island holds for visitors from abroad, as the character and fabric of the neighbourhood has been largely maintained.

There are fine examples of how hotel construction can be undertaken, as the case of the Zanzibar Serena Hotel shows, where several adjoining ancient buildings were largely left untouched on the outside but underwent a complete revival on the inside turning the formerly dilapidated buildings into a 5 star property blending into the Stone Town as if it had ever been there.

The construction however of a new hotel, right opposite a recognized historial building, has raised the heat when suggestions emerged that the guidelines for such construction provided by UNESCO WHS administrators were not fully adhered to, making the risk of sanctions including the striking off the WHS list a real possibility.

The issue had been raised here before, as Tanzania now has a clouded record vis a vis UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with the Serengeti under threat through a highway, the Selous under double threat through Uranium mining and the proposed construction of a hydroelectric dam in the dead centre of the tourism zone at Stieglers’ Gorge and the unexplained withdrawal three years ago of an application due to be approved just weeks later of the Eastern Arc Mountains, where according to constant feedback the doors are now wide open for illegal logging and mining, something a UNESCO WHS status would have largely prevented.

Watch this space for the Doha conference of UNESCO to go underway and hear about the feedback from the experts and what impact and fallout the new hotel will bring for the coveted status Zanzibar’s Stone Town enjoys up to now.