Tourism has always had a special place in Malawi’s development. It has always made the list of key drivers contributing to the country’s economic growth.
For a long time, tourism has always been ranked “the next big thing” or “the game-changer” every time people talk about growth.
In the Malawi2063, the country’s longterm development strategy anchored by three key pillars of agriculture productivity and commercialisation, industrialisation as well as urbanisation, tourism also features high.
To emphasise the importance of tourism, Malawi designated September as the National Tourism Month to reflect and celebrate the contribution the sector makes to the economy. The commemoration reached the climax on September 27th when the country joined the global community in
World Tourism Day under this year’s theme of ‘Rethinking Tourism’. The past two years have been disastrous for global tourism largely due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic whose public health guidelines such as travel and public gathering restrictions knocked the industry hard.
Malawi was not spared the impact as thousands lost jobs and the country witnesses a reduction in tourist arrivals to a low of 198 000 in 2020 from as high as 830 000 in 2017.
The country is endowed with natural tourist attraction places that just demand good enablers to reap maximum benefits. From Lake Malawi, the ninth largest freshwater lake on earth in terms of surface area, to hills and valleys, the country has enough to attract tourists from around the world.
However, despite being so endowed, Malawi still has a long way to go to make an impactful breakthrough. It faces stiff competition from regional neighbours such as Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe and others.
Marketing is one area Malawi has failed. While most of the regional competitors have some visibility on the international scene, Malawi is not as visible on the international tourist market. Those tourists who have made it here usually learnt from their colleagues who visited or indeed through some packages sold by neighbours.
In ‘rethinking tourism’, there is need to do more in terms of promotion of Malawi as a tourist destination. Every time I watch the English Premier League side Arsenal and see the ‘Visit Rwanda’ tagline on the shirt sleeves I always wish this was my beloved Malawi with the catchy ‘Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa’ slogan.
Do not underestimate the power of slogans in attracting tourists. Not long ago, the Maldives, an archipelagic State located in Southern Asia and south west of India and Sri Lanka, used to flight television advertisements promoting it as ‘The Sunny Side of Life’. The commercials were so captivating to tempt one to visit. The slogan has since changed to ‘Maldives-Always Natural’.
The World Tourism Organisation reported that international tourist arrivals at the start of 2022 were double the level recorded in 2021 with some regions recording figures above the pre-Covid-19 pandemic levels.
This shows that destinations and businesses are proactively adapting to meet challenges and responsibilities posed by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Figures show that global tourist travels hit 1.5 billion in past year and that five percent of them visited Africa with 60 percent sampling the sub-Saharan Africa. However, of those that visited sub-Saharan Africa, at least 60 out of every 100 visited South Africa and Malawi got a paltry three out of 100.
That said, tourism has a big potential to improve Malawi’s status. For instance, by June this year, tourism contribution to the country’s gross domestic product was estimated at 5.8 percent with a K500 billion revenue and 15 600 jobs.
In observing the National Tourism Month, we should, as a country, ask ourselves the direction we want our tourism to go and learn from others on how to take it a step further. There should be less talk and more action.
The ‘Rethinking Tourism’ theme should provoke debate on how best to take tourism to another level as the country implements the Malawi 2063.