Malawi received 770 341 visitors last year who contributed to K59.6 billion (about $149m) in visitor exports, a 2013 government economic report has shown.
However, the earnings are down from K69 billion (about $1.7m) which the country received in 2011 from 746 000 visitors.
“As a member of Sadc, Malawi sits amidst a vibrant tourism region that is growing rapidly and increasing its market share,” reads a report on tourism, wildlife and culture.
It says government expects to increase its international tourists to 800,000 in 2013.
Last year, government set out an ambition to grow tourism’s contribution to the economy to around K400 billion (about $1bn) which if attained could represent a significant contribution to Malawi’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) within the medium term.
The drop in the sector’s contribution to the economy as highlighted by the government report, however, comes at a time when government has placed tourism as one key strategic sector to help anchor the Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) aimed at healing the domestic economy.
It also comes barely a month after the Malawi Tourism Association (MTA) cast doubt over President Joyce Banda’s wish of placing Malawi among the top 50 countries in the world as best tourist destinations come 2015.
Currently, Malawi ranks on position 124 from position 121 in 2011, according to the 2013 Travel and Tourism Competitive index compiled by the World Economic Forum.
“In this regard, tourism remains one of the country’s sectors with significant potential for growth as an export service sector that is capable of making a substantial contribution to the social-economic development of the country,” it says.
In the long-term, according to the government report, the tourism sector aims at having ‘a Malawi that is an attractive and competitive tourist destination’ through the development and promotion of tourism, management of wildlife and conservation and promotion of the country’s national identity.
In the medium term , according to the government report, the sector projects to bring about a million high-paying visitors into Malawi, creating additional 300 000 additional direct and indirect jobs before increasing its contribution to K400 billion.
However, despite several economic challenges that hit tourism travel including fuel and foreign exchange shortages, Malawi managed to attract a high number of international visitors in 2012 than in 2011.
On capacity development of the sector during the period under review, the report says the sector commenced the review of the cultural policy, Classification Bill and the Copy Right Act.
It says that during the 2012/13 financial year, the sector intensified marketing campaigns in major source and regional markets of South Africa, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands and China.
On the domestic scene, the report says the ‘Tiziyamba ndife Amalawi’ campaign resulted in increased numbers of Malawians visiting tourist facilities and attractions for holidays, especially during Easter, News year and Independence holidays.
Commenting on the challenges facing the sector, the annual report says overall, the financial and other resources available for various sector programmes are inadequate to meaningfully exploit the sector’s growth potential.
Minister of Tourism and Culture Rachel Mazombwe Zulu, in a recent interview with Business News in Lilongwe, acknowledged about the challenges facing Malawi tourism sector but said government is committed to ensure that Malawi is placed among the best tourists’ countries.
The minister, however, noted that if the tourism sector is to grow, the tourism public sector must make policy, undertake planning, investment promotion, infrastructure development and promote Malawi as a destination.
Said the minister: “Government is fully aware of the need to create a conduncive investment environment in order to make Malawi a competitive investment destination for both local and foreign investors.”