There is always a reason to visit Malawi, a country that boasts of spectacular mountains and hills, beautiful perennial rivers, Africa’s third largest lake, national parks and wildlife reserves.
The beauty does not end on the physical features, its people, are described as the friendliest in the world and are the most treasured tourism attraction.
Frank Johnston, publisher and a renowned photographer, who has shot many beautiful sites and published books about Malawi, believes there is a lot of tourism potential in the country.
“After 46 years of stay in Malawi, I have great faith and seen that there is tourism potential in the country,” says Johnston, who was seconded by the British Government as part of its aid to Malawi.
He worked for three years as a tourism adviser before becoming director and chief executive of the inter-governmental body, the Southern African Tourism Council (Sartoc).
Later, Johnston established Central Africana Limited in 1988, which became Malawi’s largest general book publishing house, specialising in titles of tourism, historical and cultural interest.
“My publications show that I believe Malawi is a great tourism destination,” he says.
Johnston, who has published many promotional materials for the Department of Tourism, is also the founder of ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’, a slogan that has become a symbol of Malawi’s tourism attraction.
“No one had used the slogan until it was referred to by Queen Elizabeth II and Pope John Paul II when they visited Malawi in late 70s and 80s, respectively,” he recalls.
The liquidated Air Malawi’s first general manager Porky van Rooyen says: “No business, in these days of consumer power, is friendly to customers. With all claims well proven by the behaviour in the market, it rapidly goes out of market.”
This is what made Johnston to come up with the ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’ slogan as the country’s marketing tool.
“Malawians are innately kinder and friendlier than in many tourism host countries-without being so crass as to actually call ourselves friendly,” explains Johnston, who for many years published in flight magazine, Reflections, for Air Malawi.
‘Africa’s friendly airline’ was the first slogan for Air Malawi.
Susan Dalgety, a Briton who has visited Malawi more than once every year since 2005, concurs with Johnston.
“What strikes me first in Malawi is the friendliness of the people. They are warm and welcoming and I feel safe in Malawi,” Dalgety says.
Apart from the people, Dalgety says the scenery in Malawi is the most wonderful in the world, from Zomba Plateau to Lake Malawi.
“It is the most beautiful country,” she says.
Malawi Hotels and Soche Tours and Travel, now Sunbird Tourism plc, founding chief executive officer David Stuart says Malawi still retains a huge reserve of potential waiting to be developed and exploited profitably.
He says, unfortunately, the potential for profitable tourism is being threatened by environmental degradation.
“For instance, population pressures have contributed to wanton cutting of trees for charcoal denuding vast areas of once near-pristine forest, especially in the vicinity of large population centres,” laments Stuart.
“This has been detrimental, not only to tourism, but to the whole economy.”
Poaching is another threat. Stuart suggests that poachers should be turned into gamekeepers. Through incentives, they should be persuading local people to look after their local environment.
He adds that stiff penalties should be inflicted on those behind the ventures, even those taking advantage of diplomatic bag to export ivory and rhino horns overseas.
In spite of poor roads to tourism sites such as Nyika Plateau and Mulanje Mountain, Stuart believes, with technology, Malawi has a chance to display her unique features to the world at large.
“Technology enables Malawi to engage with the global market place,” he says.
Stuart says this can only improve with future digital advances and opportunities as long as Malawi remains ‘on the ball’ and focused.
Roads Authority spokesperson Portia Kajanga says they will continue to construct roads to tourist attraction centres.
She cites Rumphi-Nyika-Chitipa Road whose construction was launched recently and the rehabilitation in phases of the M5 along the lakeshore.
“Meanwhile, the Mzuzu-Nkhata Bay Road that leads to tourism sites in Nkhata Bay has just been completed, “says Kajanga, adding government has allocated more funds to road constructions leading to tourist attraction centres in Mangochi.
Perhaps all Malawi needs is to hasten its tourism infrastructural development and take advantage of its Warm Heart of Africa accolade to become the tourists’ paradise of Africa and the world. n