Leopold Kabendera, commonly known as Leo, is a highly esteemed East Africa Tourism expert who operates from Tanzania, with his base located in Arusha, the vibrant tourism hub of Northern Tanzania.
Born on June 15, 1956, in a village near Bukoba town, he grew up in the picturesque surroundings of Lake Victoria, which is renowned as the second largest freshwater lake globally. The local population of the western lake administrative region, known as Kagera, predominantly speaks Kihaya, Leo’s native language.
Throughout his remarkable 67-year journey, Leo has amassed an impressive 45 years of experience in the tourism industry. His expertise spans across Tanzania, East and Southern Africa, as well as international source markets such as North America (US and Canada), Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, Middle East, Asia (including India), and Australia.
Leo’s extensive knowledge and proficiency make him a highly accomplished Travel and Tourism Consultant in the region. His firm grasp of both qualitative and quantitative market requirements enables him to create compelling and marketable tourist products that cater to the diverse needs of travelers.
With an unwavering commitment to excellence, Leo brings a wealth of expertise and a deep understanding of the industry to every project he undertakes. His invaluable insights and ability to deliver tailor-made solutions have earned him a stellar reputation in the field of travel and tourism.
Leo’s educational journey began in his village, where he attended kindergarten and primary school. These educational institutions were managed by missionaries and had a diverse faculty comprising native teachers and members of the American Peace Corps. This period of his education took place during the late fifties and throughout the sixties.
For his secondary education, Leo ventured beyond his village. He attended school in Uganda’s Masaka District and also had the opportunity to explore the Mwanza region across Lake Victoria. Later on, he pursued high school in the Iringa region, which is situated in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania.
During this time, Leo’s educational experiences in Uganda allowed him to travel to both Uganda and Kenya, taking advantage of the defunct East Africa Community’s provisions for free movement of people, goods, and services among Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. It was during these formative years that Leo’s interest in East Africa tourism began to take shape.
Following his secondary education, Leo pursued higher studies. He embarked on his college education in Dar es Salaam before venturing abroad to Cyprus and Switzerland. It was in these countries that he obtained his Diploma and Degree in Hospitality Management and Tourism. Notably, Leo is an esteemed alumnus of the renowned Swiss Lausanne Hotel School, which has a prestigious reputation in the field of hospitality education.
During his industrial training, Leo was fortunate to be selected as a member of the team responsible for the grand opening of the first Hilton Hotel in Dubai. This valuable experience allowed him to witness firsthand the intricacies of launching a world-class hospitality establishment. Additionally, Leo embarked on a field attachment at the Nicosia Hilton in Cyprus, further enhancing his practical knowledge in the industry.
Leo’s education in Swiss hospitality and tourism played a pivotal role in shaping his international tourism career. The combination of his academic training and hands-on experience during industrial attachments laid a solid foundation for his remarkable achievements in the realm of international tourism business development. Leo’s expertise and accomplishments have made him a prominent figure in Tanzania, earning him well-deserved recognition in the field of international tourism.
Upon returning to Tanzania, Leo embarked on a new chapter of his career by taking on the role of an instructor in hospitality and tourism at the Hotel and Tourism Training Institute (HTTI). As a founding instructor, he played a crucial role in training and nurturing aspiring professionals in various fields, including waiters, cooks, room attendants, bartenders, sommeliers, tour guides, and driver guides. This institute was instrumental in supporting the growing tourism industry from the late seventies to the early eighties.
Driven by his passion for imparting knowledge and skills, Leo also undertook a part-time engagement at the esteemed Hotel Africana Vacation Village in Dar es Salaam. In his position as Services and Training Manager, he focused on enhancing the service skills of the hotel’s employees.
Additionally, he was entrusted with the task of developing a Marina Centre that offered a comprehensive range of water sports activities. From windsurfing and sailing to sea excursions, diving, snorkeling, water skiing, Indian Ocean Island excursions, and even game fishing, the Marina Centre catered to the diverse interests of its visitors. Notably, it stood out as the sole marina in the region that fulfilled the expectations of its clientele.
Here is Leo having helping various safari travelers visiting different safari destinations.
One of the highlights of the Marina Centre’s offerings was the popular Zanzibar-bound trips on traditional local dhows. These excursions were particularly favored by German tourists, who held the distinction of being the primary source market for tourism in Tanzania at that time. This period marked an exciting phase in Leo’s career, where he played an instrumental role in developing tourism infrastructure and experiences that catered to the preferences of international visitors.
After gaining valuable experience in the hospitality industry, Leo decided to pursue a full-time career in hospitality management. He transitioned into managing hotels and tourist accommodations, seeking new opportunities to apply his skills and passion. It was during this time that Leo’s love for sea sports, particularly his expertise in deep-sea diving, led him to Mafia Island.
At Mafia Island, Leo took charge of the Mafia Island Lodge, a distinctive establishment offering 50 rooms and catering to fishing and diving enthusiasts, particularly those from the Italian market. Leveraging his marketing acumen, Leo collaborated with Italian deep-sea fishing tour operators to develop an innovative concept—an annual Game Fishing competition. This competition gained international recognition and attracted professional divers and fishing enthusiasts from around the world to Mafia Island.
The exclusive Mafia Island Lodge served as the primary accommodation for participants, and it was here that the International Big Game Fishing records for the entire East Africa region were meticulously maintained. Leo’s visionary approach and partnership with Italian tour operators not only elevated the reputation of Mafia Island as a premier fishing and diving destination but also fostered a thriving community of enthusiasts who gathered annually to participate in the competition.
After spending a considerable amount of time in various locations, Leo returned to the bustling city of Dar es Salaam. This time, he assumed the prestigious role of General Manager at the Kilimanjaro Hotel, the largest flagship hotel in the city boasting 200 rooms. Affectionately known as “The Kili,” the hotel derived its name from the magnificent Mount Kilimanjaro, the second-highest free-standing mountain globally, surpassed only by Mount Everest. Unlike other mountains that are part of a range, Mount Kilimanjaro stands majestically alone in Tanzania.
During Leo’s tenure at The Kili, the hotel served as a hub for the African Liberation movement, which was a crucial driving force at that time. In addition to accommodating the international corporate community, the hotel welcomed political dignitaries from around the world who supported the liberation struggles of several Southern African countries, including Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, and Angola.
The exiled political leaders of these nations found solace and support within the walls of The Kili, as they fought for their countries’ political independence. This period marked a significant chapter in the hotel’s history, with its clientele embodying the spirit of solidarity and the pursuit of freedom.
In search of new and exhilarating challenges beyond the confines of business and politics, Leo found himself drawn to Arusha, the tourism capital of Northern Tanzania. The region’s abundant natural and cultural attractions, coupled with the presence of the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC), promised a vibrant and thrilling environment for participation in the international tourism scene. Responding to this allure, Leo joined the French Group Accor as the Director of Sales, assuming the responsibility of spearheading international sales and driving the development of business and tourist products.
Leo’s role demanded extensive travel to various tourist source markets, with the United States leading the way. He closely engaged with US Safari wholesalers, visiting them frequently to boost visitor numbers and length of stay across Accor’s six managed properties.
These properties included the:
- Novotel Mt. Meru in Arusha
- Coralia Lake Manyara Hotel situated along the Great Rift Valley escarpment bordering Lake Manyara National Park
- Coralia Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge perched on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater
- Coralia Seronera Wildlife Lodge located in the heart of Serengeti National Park
- Coralia Lobo Wildlife Lodge in the northeast of Serengeti National Park
- Coralia Mafia Island Lodge located off the southeastern coast of Dar es Salaam.
Marketed under the “Coralia Brand,” these properties were initially known as Tanzania/Serengeti Safari Lodges due to their strategic positioning within the popular Northern Tanzania Game Park Safari, along with three additional game parks, namely Tarangire National Park, Arusha National Park, and Kilimanjaro National Park, forming a comprehensive Northern Tanzania Tourist Circuit.
During his impressive 12-year tenure with Accor, Leo not only positioned these government-owned properties in the international, regional, and domestic markets but also spearheaded the development of captivating indoor and outdoor activities aimed at extending visitors’ length of stay.
Through his visionary approach, activities such as game walks, walking safaris with armed ranger escorts, balloon safaris, bush meals, sundowner cocktails, night game drives, cultural dances, campfire cocktails, folklore storytelling, and acrobat entertainment were introduced and embraced as integral elements of the tourist experience. These pioneering efforts in tourist product development have since been fully commercialized, enriching the appeal of a safari in Destination Tanzania.
During this period, Leo took the initiative to arrange market-focused familiarization trips, eductours, and press trips in collaboration with international tour operators, airlines, travel agencies, travel trade press, and public relation agencies.
These endeavors aimed to provide relevant safari tour partners worldwide with firsthand experiences and insights into the destination. Through these tour expeditions, Leo honed his professional skills in organizing successful events for introducing and enhancing destinations, as well as adding value to collaborative tours, all with the goal of strengthening partnerships in tourism market development.
To ensure the utmost professionalism and expertise during these trips, a team of high-caliber professionals was assembled. This team included Leo himself, acting as a tour escort, alongside a knowledgeable guide, often a professor or senior former wildlife park warden, and a skilled and experienced driver guide. By bringing together such a skilled team, the trips were able to deliver comprehensive and valuable information to the participants.
In order to ensure the highest quality of information, Leo actively sought appointments with executive leadership of conservation authorities and park wardens. These meetings provided the opportunity to deliver professional presentations and ensure that accurate and reliable information was shared. By establishing these connections and partnerships, Leo contributed to the provision of exceptional visitor experiences and the preservation of Tanzania’s natural treasures.
After acquiring the necessary skills and expertise, Leo took a bold step and established his own land operating business in Tanzania, focusing on emerging tourist markets of Eastern Europe and Russia. In 2005, he founded Ultra Travel Africa Limited (UTA) to cater to these growing markets.
Recognized for his extensive experience in the tourism industry, Leo was elected Chairperson of the private sector land operator advocacy association in Tanzania upon joining. Simultaneously, he assumed the role of Vice Chairperson of the Tourism Confederation of Tanzania, which served as the overarching body bringing together all eight tourism associations in the country.
Here is Leo leading various safari tours
These associations included the
- Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO)
- Hotel Association of Tanzania (HAT)
- Travel Agents Association of Tanzania (TASOTA)
- Tanzania Air Operators Association (TAOA)
- Tanzania Hunting Operators Association (TAHOA)
- Tanzania Professional Hunters Association (TPHA)
- Tanzania Professional Guides Association (TPGA)
- Tanzania Organization of Professional Hoteliers Association (TOPHAT).
Leo served three consecutive two-year terms in each of the elected positions, demonstrating his commitment to advocating for the private sector in the tourism industry.
Furthermore, Leo played a vital role as a founding member of the Board of the East Africa Tourism Platform, which brought together advocacy bodies from the East Africa Community (EAC) member countries. This platform aimed to foster collaboration and cooperation among tourism stakeholders across the region. Leo’s dedication and expertise contributed to the platform’s success, further solidifying his position as a respected figure in East Africa’s tourism industry.
Throughout his involvement in these various organizations, Leo worked tirelessly to promote tourism in Tanzania and advocate for the interests of the private sector. His strategic leadership and visionary approach have greatly contributed to the development and growth of the tourism industry in East Africa.
Leo has embarked on an exciting partnership with POSIRE, which will play a pivotal role in revitalizing operations.
This strategic alliance positions Leo as the representative of an East Africa land operation, granting him the opportunity to cater to the needs of travelers from all corners of the globe. Through this partnership, Leo’s primary objective is to offer extraordinary land-based experiences in East Africa, showcasing the region’s abundant and diverse attractions, and ensuring unforgettable journeys for every visitor.
With the backing of this esteemed American company, Leo is well-positioned to provide exceptional service and curate remarkable travel experiences in East Africa. Focused on highlighting the natural beauty and cultural wonders of the region, he is dedicated to leaving an indelible mark on each traveler who embarks on an exploration of East Africa’s awe-inspiring landscapes and vibrant destinations.