Preparations for the second Travelers’ Philanthropy Conference scheduled in Tanzania’s northern tourist city of Arusha are at the peak with a good turn-out of registered key participants.

The conference, first of its kind in Africa is expected to attract travel and tourism think-tanks who will deliberate on strategies that would make tourism benefit local communities and help global campaigns against poverty in Africa.

Conference observers, mostly African travel trade stakeholders find the forthcoming Travelers’ Philanthropy Conference a timely event that would help to change the attitudes of African governments towards their policies on tourism development initiatives and wildlife conservation, to make them more sustainable and benefit local communities.

Tanzania has been among African countries where local communities neighboring tourist sites remained marginalized with big chunks of tourist incomes transferred to foreign countries, leaving them with none other than abject poverty.

The Maasai communities in rich tourist sites of northern Tanzania, the hunters and gatherers Barabaigs in rich wildlife areas all in northern Tanzania are examples of such communities enjoying little or nothing from tourist gains, observers told eTN.

Organizers of the conference have confirmed to eTN that famous Kenyan environmentalists Professor Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and the founder of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, has graciously agreed to give the keynote address at the 2008 Travelers’ Philanthropy Conference to be held from December 3 to 5 this year.

The conference, organized by the Center on Ecotourism and Sustainable Development (CESD), will focus on the growing global movement spearheaded by responsible tourism businesses to provide financial and other types of support to local community and conservation projects.

“This is the first conference focused on travelers’ philanthropy ever held in Africa,” says CESD Co-Director, Dr. Martha Honey.

“And we are honored that it will be keynoted by Prof. Maathai, the continent’s most eminent civic leader in the struggle for democracy, human rights, women’s empowerment, and environmental conservation,” she said.

Since 1977, Prof. Maathai has been organizing rural Kenyan women to plant trees in an effort to help combat deforestation, soil erosion, and water shortages.

The Green Belt Movement has planted over 40 million trees and become a leading force in Kenya’s pro-democracy struggles as well as a model for similar initiatives in other developing countries. In 2004, when Prof. Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts, she became the first environmentalist and only African woman to receive this prestigious award.

“I have always believed in the huge potential of travelers’ philanthropy,” said the professor.

“The Green Belt Movement has been sharing its work with friends and supporters through our Green Belt Safaris which combines visits to our tree planting projects with game viewing safaris. I know that this conference will enrich our experience and deepen our understanding of this very important concept,” she added.

The 3-day conference is entitled “Making Travelers’ Philanthropy Work for Development, Business, and Conservation” will bring together several hundred participants from Africa, as well as international representatives of leading tourism businesses, conservation and development NGOs, UN agencies, and other aid organizations.

Plenary and workshop themes will include the role of tourism businesses in supporting HIV-AIDS education and prevention; raising funds from travelers and travel businesses for environmental initiatives and conservation of wildlife, parks and protected areas, and developing business models that incorporate Travelers’ Philanthropy as a central element.