Today, September 27 2012, Malawi joins the international community in celebrating World Tourism Day. The day was set aside to raise awareness among people on the important role of tourism to their respective economies, among other things.
This yearâ€™s World Tourism Day is being celebrated under the theme: â€˜Tourism & Sustainable Energy: Powering Sustainable Developmentâ€™ with official celebrations scheduled to take place in Maspalomas, Spain
The United Nations says this yearâ€™s theme seeks to highlight tourismâ€™s role in a brighter energy future where the worldâ€™s entire population shall have access to modern, efficient and affordable energy services. I canâ€™t wait for such a future, especially given the frustrations we face in Malawi day in and day out in as far as accessing reliable electricity supply is concerned.
â€œTourism today is at the forefront of some of the worldâ€™s most ambitious and innovative clean energy solutions: the aviation industry is implementing cutting-edge technologies to make aircraft lighter than ever before; commercial flights are beginning to use bio-fuels in their fuel mix; key card systems and energy saving light bulbs are increasingly being implemented in hotel rooms worldwide; and tour operators are asking for energy efficiency throughout their supply chains,â€ says a UN statement on the day about the theme.
Closer home, tourism is one of the â€œnine priorities within prioritiesâ€ the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) focuses on in the drive to achieve growth and development in the country.
With the countryâ€™s major foreign exchange earner, tobacco, facing a number of challenges, including low prices, Malawi identified the tourism, wildlife and culture sector as one of the emerging sectors with a potential to significantly contribute towards the socio-economic development.
Malawi is endowed with beautiful mountains, game, plateaus and Lake Malawi, the ninth largest in the world and third deepest freshwater lake on earth.
The World Tourism Day should give us, as a nation, an opportunity to reflect on what we have done to market our destinations almost 48 years after attaining political independence. There is need for an honest soul-searching on where we did well, where we failed and what we need to do now to move forward and achieve more.
Perhaps, the starting point should be on incentives to investors in the tourism sector. Many operators complain of high taxes and lack of adequate supporting infrastructure such as roads and telecommunications networks. Of course some roads to resorts such as those along Lake Malawiâ€™s southern tip in Mangochi, Cape Maclear and Salima have been improved. However, you cannot say the same for access roads to places such as Kasungu National Park, Majete Wildlife Reserve in Chikhwawa which boasts the â€˜Big Fiveâ€™â€”buffalo, elephants, lions, rhino and leopard, Lengwe National Park also in Chikhwawa and Mwabvi Game Reserve in Nsanje. Up North, Nyika National Park has one of the most scenic views but access remains poor.
We see our neighbours such as Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya promoting their destinations on international television channels. There is need for us to have a levy to finance such marketing of Malawi as a holiday destination on the international scene.
It is a fact that tourism generates revenue, including some in form of foreign exchange. But, to earn more from tourism, we need, as a country, to add value to the sector. For example, on concerns of high taxation which, operators in turn pass on to consumers through exorbitant and in some cases exaggerated costs of services, strike a balance so that a win-win situation is created.
On the other hand, high taxes aside, I feel some of the charges or pricing in some hotels are excessively exaggerated. Why should a half-litre bottle of distilled/sill water bottled right here in Malawi which retails K80 cost K250? What mark-up do hotels and lodges undertake? Indeed, what value do they add to the bottled water to cost that much? In some cases, the water is not even chilled! We can do better!
Recently, some of our hotels have been star rated. Some are three-star and a couple of them are four-star. Ideally, stars are expected to give the consumer some level of expectation of the type of service to expect. I live in Blantyre. Occasionally, I patronise some of the top hotels, including those with the four-star rating. To a greater extent, I have no problems with the infrastructure including fittings. However, I expect the staff to be cheerful and make me feel at home. They should not behave as if they are being forced to serve customers. Like I said the other day, some of them judge customers by their appearance forgetting that all that glitters is not gold! Of course, there are some who are there, but we need to do more.
Socrates said: â€œThe way to gain a good reputation, is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.â€ Stars in themselves will count to nought if the faces behind them scare customers away!
Let us reflect on tourism sector achievements as the country strives to make it one of the major forex earners for the economy!