Each year, countries across the globe commemorate World Tourism Day, which falls on September 27. The day dates back to September 27 1970 when statutes of United Nations World Tourism Organisation were adopted.
It was set to raise awareness on the role of tourism and how it impacts on social, cultural, political and economic values in the world.
Malawi will this Saturday join the rest of the world in commemorating the day whose international theme this year is ‘Tourism & Community Development’.
In his statement ahead of the day and stressing on the theme, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said: “Harnessing tourism’s immense benefits will be critical to achieving the sustainable development goals and implementing the post 2015 development agenda.”
Tourism is a big industry globally. In fact, as a sector, tourism accounts for nine percent of global gross domestic product (GDP), one out of 11 jobs in the world and contributes to revenue generation for economies rich or poor.
Closer home, tourism is among the nine priorities within priorities outlined in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II (MGDS II) expected to contribute to sustainable economic growth and expand or diversify the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
For example, in 2013, immediate past president Joyce Banda said it was government’s “wish” to put Malawi among the top 50 countries in the world as best tourist destinations by 2015, which is next year. Then, according to the 2013 Travel and Tourism Competitive Index compiled by the World Economic Forum, Malawi ranked on position 124, a drop from 121 in 2011.
By all standards, Malawi is naturally beautiful. It has countless destinations with breathtaking sceneries and views not seen or found in many parts of the world. From Nyika National Park on Nyika Plateau in Rumphi, to Cape Maclear in Mangochi, Lower Shire Valley and the under water park, Lake Malawi National Park to several wildlife reserves and friendly people, Malawi has it all.
So, where does Malawi get it wrong? Why is tourism not reaping the desired results and even overtake tobacco as the major foreign exchange earner?
Marketing, infrastructure, access as well as pricing of services play a bigger role in attracting tourists.
Some of the soul-searching questions we should provide honest answers to include: How good are the roads connecting to tourist resort areas? Do we market enough what we have on offer? Why should tourists come to Malawi and not anywhere else? Air ticket fares?
In terms of connectivity and accessibility, most of the roads leading to our tourist centres are in bad shape. Many are only better accessible during dry season. Take the access to Nyika National Park, for example? Even the Lakeshore Road is not in one of the best shapes?
Tourism, wildlife and culture, we all seem to agree, have the potential to significantly contribute towards our country’s socio-economic development through increased foreign exchange earnings, employment creation and the development of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
However, for us to reap maximum benefits from tourism, there is need to increase and improve infrastructure, aggressively promote and market our country as a destination of choice amid stiff competition from other attractive tourist destinations globally.
Pricing of services offered in most of the country’s hotels and resorts also needs to be realistic. I am glad that after expressing reservations with pricing of some local products, a hotel chain has reduced prices of lager beers brewed at Makata Industrial Area. That is the way to go.
We should also utilise the hotel grading system to ensure that pricing matches the service offered.
Let us reflect on these and many more issues as we celebrate the 2014 World Tourism Day.