Government through the Ministry of Tourism and Culture says it is targeting to start hosting over one million tourists per year by 2022 as one way of increasing domestic revenue amid falling tobacco earnings.
Director for Tourism, Isaac Katopola speaking during a curriculum review consultative meeting initiated by Mzuzu University, said Malawi should seriously consider tourism as one of the sectors that could sustain the country’s economy beyond 2030, adding the sector can replace tobacco in income generation and that it can help improve the gross domestic product (GDP) for the country.
Tobacco is Malawi’s major foreign current exchange earner, accounting for over 60 percent of the earnings.
“We are told that the United Nations will ban tobacco growing in the world by 2025; because of that, we need to strategise on how best we will sustain the country’s economy beyond 2030 since tourism is placed as the second sector from agriculture to boost our economy.
“The tourism strategic plan that we developed will guide us to ensure we have over one million tourists in the country so that we grow our GDP by 8 or 10 percent in 2022”, Katopola said.
Industry experts say by bringing on board about a million high-paying visitors, Malawi can create an additional 300 000 direct and indirect jobs and contribute about K400 billion to the economy every year.
Malawi Tourism Council membership services and communications manager, Dennis Iman, said the tourism industry is operationally substandard although there are some good policies surrounding the sector.
He said some of the challenges are emanating because government does not consult relevant stakeholders when implementing some policies.
He added that tourists are supposed to pay $75 dollars when entering Malawi, a fee which is believed to be expensive and could be a spice for failure to host the desired number of tourists.
“We still have a long way to go because tourism is directed by government but driven by private entities. These entities are so much disintegrated because each one of them works on itself without sharing information on their services for the benefit of new tourists getting in the country”, he said.
According to Katopola, the country will host a national tourism conference on 6 April 2017 where stakeholders in the industry and international speakers will be brought together to discuss in depth challenges facing the industry and their solutions.
Tourism sector has been growing steadily between 2011 and 2015. The country received 746 000 visitors in 2011, 770 341 visitors in 2012 and 790 000 in 2013. In 2014, Malawi hosted about 805 000 tourists who contributed four percent of the annual gross domestic product (GDP) while in 2015 it hosted about 850 000 tourists.
However, a recent report from the National Statistical Office (NSO) indicates that the number of tourists is going down despite intensive marketing strategies Malawi is undertaking to promote Malawi as a destination of choice for tourists.
The NSO’s December 2016 quarterly statistical bulletin released on Tuesday shows that the number of visitors coming to Malawi has been going on a downward spiral.
For instance, business visits have slowed to 38 494 as at December 2014 from 46 529 the previous year while visits to visit relatives and friends slowed to 2 820 from 5 030 the same period in the previous year.
Again, expenditure per person per visit declined to K100 947 million from K153 664 million the previous year on an average of 10 days.
This also had an impact on revenues in the transport sector as 9 155 people traveled by air, down from 29 073 while departures.
According to the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) II, travel and tourism (T&T) sector in Malawi is still in its infancy, but it offers great potential for the development of the country as a source of GDP growth, foreign exchange earnings, and employment.
In an earlier interview, Malawi Tourism Council chairperson Florentina Kabefu said that lack of strategies in the tourism sector has negatively impacted on the sector’s growth citing challenges like visa regulations and poor infrastructure scaring away visitors.