Tourism is one of the strongest drivers of world trade and prosperity. In many countries, it acts as an engine for development through foreign exchange earnings and the creation of direct and indirect employment.
It contributes five percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounts for six percent of the world’s exports in services, making it the fourth largest export sector after fuels, chemicals and automotive products.
Tourism is also responsible for 235 million jobs worldwide. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates that by 2020, there will be 1.6 billion international tourist arrivals worldwide. In Malawi, tourism contributes 60 billion kwacha to the GDP and is responsible for over 150 thousand jobs.
It is argued that tourism is better placed than many sectors to address the needs of the poor as even low-skilled workers in remote areas can become tourism exporters. Its diversity and labour intensity also provides a wide range of employment opportunities for women and young people, resulting in increased income, empowerment and social inclusion.
But despite the many opportunities that the industry presents, it still faces huge challenges in third world countries most of which lack expertise in the development of tourism. Lack of appropriate legal systems and lack of financial resources in many Least developed countries (LDCs) are among the major challenges in planning tourism developmental activities.
The great majority of the people in the LDCs have difficulties meeting their basic needs, which limits them from becoming closely involved in community issues related to tourism development.
In these regions, special programmes have supported locally driven development. For instance, Article 5 of the UNWTO ethical codes states: “Local population should be associated with tourism activities and share equitably in the economic, social and cultural benefits they generate.”
Taking into consideration this year theme for the national tourism month, government must be aware of the impact of different forms of tourism development and promote growth models with assumptions and implications that are fully understood.
A pro-poor tourism approach will entail targeted support programmes and increased community participation. Malawi should do more to address pro-poor concerns and sustainability considerations in tourism development for poverty alleviation.
The tourism sector in Malawi is dependent highly on international markets, as there are no significant established domestic markets. The challenge faced to this extent is to attract larger numbers of international and domestic tourists who are most likely to benefit the people living in tourism destinations.
Government should come out with initiatives in developing more activities in our existing attractions and new attractions, providing the services of guides and transport necessary to the visitor’s enjoyment.
It should also be appreciated that for community-based tourism to be really ‘owned’ and supported by local people, initiatives must come from the local community itself and not from the central government or non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
The lack of institutional back-stopping indicates that major efforts are required to incorporate and internalise pro-poor objectives within public sector programmes.
Government should be ready to make meaningful investments in connecting vocational training and skill upgrading efforts with local employment opportunities as this aspect can be a major catalyst for empowering communities with expertise in the tourism industry.
Supporting locally-driven tourism may also require re-structuring of public administration systems and re-distribution of power and wealth, this would include decentralisation of administration, more involvement of economic and social players and strengthening of the role of civil society.
In conclusion, I wish to conquer with UNWTO that tourism should not be seen on its own as ‘the answer’ to the elimination of poverty, but it can make a powerful contribution towards that end. The potential to develop more tourism and to channel a higher percentage of tourism spending towards the poor may be great in some areas and quite small in others.