Yesterday saw the tourism exhibition get to an end at the Bingu International Convention Centre (Bicc) in Lilongwe. Malawi desperately needs to seek ways of exposing her natural beauty to the outside world more aggressively than she has done before.
Therefore the tourism exhibition is more than a welcome development, coming, as it does, on the heels of the CNN declaring Malawi as one of the top five destinations in the world for tourists to visit.
There is only so much that CNN or any foreign agency can do to promote Malawi as a must visit destination. Apart from Lake Malawi, Mulanje Mountain, Majete National park and other beauty spots mentioned by CNN there are many other places of interest that need massive promotion. Many people within Malawi and without do not know that we have a pocket of the rainforest waiting to be sampled in Ntchisi District, for example. Like most touristy places in Malawi, which are not heavily patronised, the rain-forest is in pristine condition, offering any visitor the best value for their money and time.
Another aspect of tourism that needs some reasonably heavy exposure is in the area of culture. I recently picked up a visitor from the USA at Chileka airport. In the conversation that ensued between us, he asked, “Is there a place in Blantyre or close to Blantyre where I can get the opportunity to see people dressed in traditional attire?” I was at a loss and suggested that he should probably visit the museum at Chichiri where he would see mannequins dressed the way our ancestors used to dress. He wanted to see real people not dummies in truly Malawian outfits.
Malawi is culturally rich and yet we have not invested in our culture to reap the potential benefits it possesses. In 2013 Rev Dr. Kawale and I authored an article about Msinja, the ancient Chewa religious centre where the ‘Mother of All’, the Makewana and her attendants resided. Makewana was the Chewa nation’s prophetess. Such places as Msinja can and should be revived for educational and tourist purposes. Perhaps my American visitor would have loved to visit such a place. The rock paintings at Chongoni in Dedza could also become big attractions to tourists.
Our Gulewamkulu and Vimbuza traditional dances have been recognised by Unesco as intangible cultural heritage of humanity. We can ride on this special recognition and set up sites where these and other dances can be showcased to people visiting Malawi, the majority of whom will be watching them for the first time.
All these potential tourist attractions need to be well coordinated and presented to the would-be tourist as realistic options. Some effort to this end has, thankfully, been developed by some local tech-savvy young people. They have put together a community-driven mobile application for travel and booking for the Malawian and African market. Behold, Tiyeni! Loosely modelled around the shared economy model, where applications such as Uber and AirBnB have found success, Tiyeni aims simply to connect travelers from around the world to Tourism service providers in countries like Malawi, making their travel experience as seamless as possible. All that the service providers need to do is register with Tiyeni on tiyeniapp.com.
Tiyeni is a mobile-first solution, having been designed to run on Android and iOS powered mobile devices, and boasts exciting features like direct book using VISA and TNM Mpamba (currently on trial) allowing anyone to check into a Malawian resort of their choice, get local transport and tour guides arranged in advance, and yes, all this accomplished from a mobile phone in the comfort of their home. They will not need to travel to Malawi first and start arranging for all this while here.
We need innovative approaches like Tiyeni to tap into the huge potential that is tourism. In Malawi tourism has been underdeveloped ever since, and yet it can clearly yield great economic results. If well handled, it can easily eclipse other foreign exchange earners like tobacco, tea and sugar. But we have to adopt different methods of conducting business. The approach should be business unusual rather than business as usual.
We need to conduct a hard search within our cultural, ecological and geographical assets and develop scores of attractions which will draw multitudes of visitors to Malawi. No foreigner will do this for us. It incumbent upon us, the locals, to develop Malawi’s tourism potential and make this country a much sought after tourist destination in the world. We know our country better than foreigners do. We need to get up and open up Malawi to the world. The time is now.