Some few days ago, the media carried perennial tales about the millions of kwacha’s tobacco sales have locked in so far. It is perennial in the sense such hype has never stopped questions about the future of the green leaf. Someone is trying to impress the industry is on track, but the reality is different.
We can as well not expect any change in fortunes in dollar terms from the auction floors. At the same time, I think, as we desperately, and possibly strategically, seek alternatives to diversity, a critical look at travel options to strengthen tourism, a lullaby, that has been played for ages.
It looks quite interesting that the Ministry of Tourism took some serious steps to establish some site, instead of posting their strategic plan online, as was the case some years ago. Recently, privatisation or liquidation, whatever term you like, of Air Malawi was completed. A new company was established and a foreign carrier, Ethiopian Airlines was the successful bidder. There is nothing wrong with them; at least government did away with a business that was a drain on public funds, even though the new owners are also taxpayer-owned. It doesn’t really matter, as long as we don’t have to pay our taxes to bail out an airline with 400 workers. But what is important is they offer less expensive travel to our tourism industry, and not simply using KIA as another hub for transit passengers, mainly to domestic destinations.
It is interesting to see how the civil aviation market has evolved over the years, and indeed how the general public views flying now. One can say that the times Air Malawi did flights to Dubai or the Tuesday shoppers’ flights to the city of Egoli, the general public generally patronised them well, except for a few airline culprits that cost the airline with non-sensical privileges that come with a poorly managed business. They were few tickets paid by the tax payer, in my opinion and the routes financially feasible.
There has been a cadre of business persons, not too rich, but medium and small of some kind that have risen over the years. It’s been like, flying is no longer a tycoon’s exclusion, but many small average persons can afford it, and further opportunities exist. The African middle class is steadily rising, and Malawi is not being left behind, and opportunities to get our tourism to a higher level through affordable travel are enormous. Only if our airports are developed and handle a range of equipment, particularly domestic destinations.
Our thoughts should now go into investing a lot into our airports beyond Kamuzu International and Chileka but mainly our prime areas of Mangochi, Likoma, Mulanje, Karonga, Mzuzu, Liwonde and Nyika. I don’t think it is in our economic interest to let Ethiopian Airlines use our country as a feeder hub into Addis Ababa, and simply out muscle their two major competitors that way. I don’t think that was the intention of Air Malawi sale, but it may turn to be so. It is important that no excuses of poor airport infrastructure are made for any potential carrier to most of our unexploited tourism gems. Despite the current mess, Malawians have shown interest to travel and explore their own country. But again it all depends on putting extra money to improve infrastructure of all our airfields, and to make it easy for small operators to service our domestic destinations.
At the moment it can cost someone more money to fly to Likoma than Johannesburg or Lusaka. Examples abound of passengers stranded in the middle of the lake in some sea unworthy boats because there are no regular flights to the two islands. Just of the many examples, but steadily, our tourism can incorporate a strategy with the capital hill machinery that tobacco substitutes are real, and effective to secure the economic future of country. All we need is some serious investment in our airports, beyond the main two, as Malawians continue to demonstrate that flying is affordable. We need to move with the times as Africa is the next big thing.