Malawi is currently observing the National Tourism Month to raise awareness on the tourism sector, its potential and contribution to the socio-economic development of the country.
Basically, the National Tourism Month culminates into the World Tourism Day which falls on September 27 and is this year being commemorated under the theme Tourism and Digital Transformation.
Tourism contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to rise to 7.7 percent this year. In 2017, according to the Malawi Government Annual Economic Report, the tourism sector’s contribution to the economy was K158 billion, representing 3.5 percent of GDP.
Through the Malawi Investment Forum, the Malawi Investment and Trade Centre (Mitc) has reported expressions of interest to invest in the tourism sector.
This year’s theme seeks to foster awareness on the importance of innovation and the digital transformation in the tourism industry and how tourism can be used as a strategic tool to nurture innovation and new technologies.
Much has been said and written about the potential of tourism as one of the major foreign exchange earners for the country, especially in the wake of the growing threat to tobacco as the number one forex earner.
In one of his Facebook posts two weeks ago, Zimbabwean billionaire businessperson and philanthropist Strive Masiyiwa shared a reflection on the untapped potential that is in Lake Malawi.
He wrote: “Reflection: Many years ago, I was at a business conference in Germany, when I found myself speaking casually to one of the most brilliant industrialists of his generation, Juergen Schrempp, who ran Mercedes Benz.
“On realising that he had travelled in Africa, I asked him what was the most interesting [business] opportunity he had seen: ‘Lake Malawi,’ he replied without hesitation, before adding: ‘What an amazing asset. They [Malawi] should be earning hundred billion [dollars I assume] a year from it already. It has nothing to do with any minerals.’
“He said it with such passion, and then left. I was deeply troubled in my spirit, as I wondered what he had seen. What he said has always come to me, when I see a natural wonder in Africa: ‘I once flew in an aeroplane at low altitude following the course of the Congo River. I had my hand held over my mouth all the way, totally stunned by what I was seeing-it’s majestic beauty! ‘What an opportunity! Oh my goodness!’ I kept shouting in wonder: ‘Imagine what a generation of entrepreneurial leaders will one day do with this…’ #Perhaps you are the one?”
Masiyiwa’s last question provoked my thoughts. I felt inspired and, at the same time, angry that as a people, 54 years after independence, we have failed to fully exploit the potential of tourism as a backbone of the economy.
Many have cited low investment in quality infrastructure, pricing and, in many cases, lack of skilled human resource as some of the constraints hampering tourism growth.
To a greater extent, lack of political will to grow the sector is also evident. This explains why there are no concrete plans to develop a lakeshore city replete with an international airport and related industries. I imagined Cape Maclear City that would extend to Monkey Bay, Chipoka, Salima and Mangochi proper, with highways, high-speed train networks and what have you.
I then recalled that my good friend Bright Malopa has an ambitious tourism project near Cape Maclear. Beyond him, on the part of government, it has been the usual more talk and less action. Today, the Golden Sands ‘hotel’ at Lake Malawi National Park in Cape Maclear lies in ruins with no sign of development in the near future.
The tourism sector employs about 217 000 people representing 2.9 percent of total employment in the country, but there could be more jobs—even hitting the magical one million!—if it was fully exploited.
With the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections fast approaching, I expect political parties to develop practical strategies to exploit the full potential of tourism. This should also be food for thought as the country commemorates National Tourism Month and later World Tourism Day.n