It is undisputed that Malawi is a beautiful country. It has the most beautiful beaches and a variety of flora and fauna enough to attract foreign tourists.
It was, therefore, not a surprise when the Chinese delegation that attended the Malawi-China Investment Forum in Lilongwe showed interest to invest in the tourism industry. Tourism has for so long been touted as the next ‘gold mine’ that can turn around Malawi’s ailing economy, which for so long, has depended on the green gold, tobacco, which, unfortunately, is not fetching that much needed forex. The anti-smoking campaign and the changing climatic conditions that have brought about unpredictable rainfall patterns are a few of factors that have affected Malawi’s green gold.
I totally agree that with the many beautiful places Malawi has, the country should be able to raise enough forex. Unfortunately, this has not been happening for a long time. One of the reasons for Malawi’s failure to boost its tourism industry is the way the country is marketed outside. I know many people when they think of marketing Malawi, they only think of the lake. But do you know that we can also market our culture, tradition and food to make foreign tourists want to visit Malawi?
Apart from the wrong way of marketing our country, the tourism sector, I feel, has paid little attention to attracting the local tourist. Focus has mostly been on foreign tourists. But we all know that ‘charity begins at home’ and that there is no better way of marketing than word of mouth. It is easy for me to convince a friend to visit Mangochi than it is for the government, through radio or TV adverts, to convince someone. Unfortunately, it is very difficult and simply unaffordable for most Malawians to visit tourist attraction centres because of exorbitant prices.
Most tourist attraction places charge in dollars regardless of whether it is a local or foreign tourist. Then there is this tendency of trying too hard to impress visitors with foreign cuisines. Malawi has the best rice, potatoes, vegetables and I can go on and on. Most of our food is organic, which is the direction many countries are striving to go and yet our hotels try so hard to impress an Italian with Pizza. The reason people leave their homes to eat out or visit a country is because they want to experience something new; otherwise, there is no need to go out.
And there is the difficulty in getting to most tourist attraction places. Imagine trying to convince someone from outside Malawi to visit the beautiful Chintheche in Nkhata Bay. This person will have to fly to Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) and from there drive for almost eight hours to Chintheche. Trust me, when this person goes back home, what he or she will tell colleagues is not how beautiful Chintheche is but how difficult it is to get there. Surely, that’s one tourist and thousands of kwacha lost.
I support the Tidziyamba ndife aMalawi initiative, but it has failed to attract local tourists. There are even some who believe perhaps tourism means attracting foreign tourists because of the way Malawi has been marketing itself. Less attention has been paid to let Malawians feel proud of their tourist destinations. Make Malawi attractive to Malawians first before you can attract foreigners. n