Reflections on tourism potential, growth

It is September yet again in the calendar year, a month in which the global community commemorates the contribution of tourism to the growth of national economies and individuals alike.

Specifically, September 27 is World Tourism Day set aside to create awareness among the global society on the significance of tourism and its social, political, financial as well as cultural worth and value.

In Malawi, to boost tourism awareness, the month of September is designated as National Tourism Month.

The theme for both the National Tourism Month and World Tourism Day this year is Tourism and Jobs: A Better Future For All.

The theme was carefully chosen to reflect on the contribution of tourism to job creation across the world.

Worldwide, tourism is touted to generate 10 percent of formal jobs and is included in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Goal Eight for its potential to create decent work. By 2030, the expiry date for the SDGs, countries are expected to have devised and implemented “policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products”.

In Malawi, the importance of tourism cannot be overemphasised. Tourism has contributed to infrastructure development, preservation of culture, creation of decent jobs and indeed leisure.

The World Travel and Tourism Council said in 2018 Malawi generated 236 500 direct tourism jobs while total contribution of travel and tourism was pegged at 533 500 jobs.

Tourism contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) was projected to rise to 7.7 percent in 2018. In 2017, according to the 2018 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.

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 face of the growing threat to tobacco as the number one foreign exchange earner.

In my entry on tourism in September last year, I quoted the sentiments of Zimbabwean billionaire businessperson and philanthropist Strive Masiyiwa who, through Facebook, 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?”

His last question provoked my thoughts. I felt inspired and, at the same time, angry that as a people, 55 years after attaining independence, we have not fully exploited 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.

During the campaign for the May 21 Tripartite Elections various political parties outlined their plans to boost tourism. There was talk of an international airport in Mangochi to open the wider lakeshore, especially Mangochi, Cape Maclear and Salima, to tourism. There was also talk of making Mangochi a city to enhance tourism.

Previously, there have been plans to build a five-star resort in Cape Maclear. There was also another proposal for a five-star hotel and golf village in Monkey Bay. Individuals such as Bright Malopa also have ambitious tourism projects in the Cape Maclear area which, if they materialise, will change the landscape and redefine tourism. There will likely be more jobs created and more fun and comfort.

To a greater extent, lack of political-will to grow the sector is also evident. But with a foundation stone laid for the construction of Mangochi International Airport, there seem to be light at the end of the tunnel for tourism growth.

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