The following topic is what I can claim to write with authority due to my marketing background. It is a result of a detailed research work as well as detailed discussion held on Malawitalk.Special thanks goes to the likes of hon Kaliyati-minister of tourism, David mogg,Trevor chimimba,Cuthbert Kachale,Vuto lwanda,Dr Maggie Kalirani-Themuka,Mr[s] Isaac Ziba,Watipaso Mkandawire,Andrew Kumwenda,Junaid and many other people who took part in the tourism debate. The large part of this article is drawn from that debate.
Thank you all
Bright Mac E Malopa
by the way freedom of expression implies freedom to make errors.As such this article has been published unedited.Get the idea and not the grammar
Tourism is Malawi s third largest foreign exchange earner after Tea and Tobacco, and a major employer, accounting between 5-9% of the total wage employment by 2002. It contributes about 11% of the gross domestic product (GDP).Unfortunately, tourism is no appreciated the way it should be. For that reason, I have decided to evaluate it analytically in the process, providing a step by step process of turning this largely ignored industry into a profitable therefore an economic turning point in the country's wider economic picture.
1.1 The Industry
All African Countries are beautiful of course, but Malawi is the most enticing. Despite being included in the 10 bottom world poorest countries, it perhaps is the only country that has not experienced civil conflict since her independence.This perhaps crowns everything entailing the culture and the pride of the people whose spirit in welcoming foreigners and visitors is next to nothing.
The principal tourist attraction is Lake Malawi which is set among rolling hills covered in tropical vegetation. There are two resort areas: Mangochi at the southern end of the Lake and the Salima area on the south western shore. Birdlife at Lake Malawi is plentiful. The Lake has one of the highest diversities of freshwater fish in the world. Around Cape Maclear, there are excellent snorkeling and diving spots.
There are five national parks in Malawi notable for their spectacular scenery, un spoilt beauty and rich diversity of wildlife. Of special mention are Nyika National Park, Kasungu National Park and Liwonde National Park.
Birdlife such as African fish eagles, Palm nut vultures and Pel's fishing owls are prolific among the flood plains and reed swamps. Malawi is also home to herds of elephant, hippos, waterbuck, reedbuck and sable antelope. The country has one of the largest numbers of orchid species in Africa. Zomba Mountain is one of the best places to see orchids and other native flora.
After impressive growth between 1960 and 1965, the sector experienced an unprecedented decline in 1990s, particularly 1991 due to worsening human rights issues and other travel restrictions on western travellers by the MCP government respectively.
Promotion of mass tourism from 1994 -1995 by the UDF government led to substantial increases in tourist numbers but drastic falls in per capita tourist expenditure, length of stay, hotel occupancy, hotel room rates, and Service quality. This tourism segment cannot be relied upon as a sustainable source of revenue as carrying-capacity limits of many tourism resources appear to have been exceeded. The capacity of the country to offer luxury tourism, the current target, has been largely compromised by the effects of years of promoting mass tourism.
Specifically, the capacity has been affected by over promoting tourist sites in the southern region at the expense of similar sites in the central and northern parts of Malawi.
Under development of tourist facilities like cape Maclear where there are no proper lodging facilities within the Lake Malawi national park, General insecurity in the country as often advised by many western countries in particular the US and UK governments through their ministries of foreign affairs.
Poor infrastructure, and environmental degradation deforestation issues in Dedza and Zomba mountains not least Chikangawa forest reserves. This poor situation in tourism is attributable to:
The fact that there was inadequate reflection, consultation and planning when the policy to focus on the mass market was formulated.
The absence of a shared tourism vision and a long-term development strategy.
Although the UDF government came up with a strategic document titled Tourism Development Plan for 2003-2008, the document itself is largely ambiguous and cannot be implemented given the scarcity of resources in Malawi.
Not surprising indeed that even after its adoption in 2003, Malawi still does not have a shared vision for tourism generated through wide consultation and open dialogue among stakeholders in the industry and the framework for tourism is incomplete in the sense that industry actors and activities are not adequately coordinated.
Consequently, the policies developed for the sector have been ad-hoc, un-implementable, under funded thereby making consistency, continuity, or a long-term focus almost impossible.
Malawi may have been in recent years not greatly been visited by visitors from other than neighboring African Countries and a few Europeans mainly those connected to the missionaries, but it is surely one of the most enticing destinations in Africa hence “THE WARM HEART OF AFRICA”
1.2 Change in Focus
Government is supporting the tourism sector by providing adequately maintained infrastructure, strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Tourism, Parks and Wildlife to coordinate public and private sector activities in the tourism industry, and has formulated the Strategic Tourism Development Plan for 2003-2008. The plan charts the way forward for tourism development, putting the focus on ecotourism. Other initiatives to boost the sector include amendment of the Hotels and Tourism Act, the opening of two new casinos in Blantyre and Lilongwe, and the introduction of training programs for tour guides and curio makers.
The number of international visitors to Malawi rose slightly by 7-11 % from 298,830 in 2002 to 382,647 in 2003. The majority of arrivals were from other African countries, especially from Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Malawi has selected five sites for ecotourism development: Likhubula Falls on Mount Mulanje in the south, Manchewe Falls at Livingstonia in Rumphi in the north, Kande Beach in Nkhata Bay in the north, Maleri Islands in Lake Malawi and the nature sanctuary in Lilongwe.
Investment opportunities in the tourism sector include developing game and lakeside hotels, city centre and resort area restaurants, time share developments and game parks.
1.3 Strategic Intent and Current Position
Based on the ‘vision’ and the ‘mission’ of Malawi’s tourism, the following strategic goals should be considered:
Developing working relations across government departments and related private sectors especially those in the hospitality, agricultural, telecommunication to co-opt them as business partners.
Satisfying the high quality tourism infrastructural needs of tourists across national geographical boundaries.
Maintaining high growth levels and aggressively challenging competitors to be amongst the preferred destination in Africa.
Promoting innovation in the area of tourism packages to set new industry standards.
1.4 Situation Analysis
In the wake of the current performance which pose new threats and challenges for the future a situational analysis is carried out to identify the main issues influencing Malawi’s tourism. This is done through a SWOT analysis as given below.
Relatively stable. The country has never gone through any civil strife
Uniqueness of the panoramic: Malawi’s dynamic country rich in contrast and colour where you'll find a harmonious blend of culture, cuisine, arts and an extraordinary chance to commune with nature in all her magnificence.
The country has one of the largest numbers of orchid species in Africa. Zomba Mountain is one of the best places to see orchids and other native flora.
The country’s lake is probably the only fresh lake in the world hosting a marine national park and home to about 695 different species of fish 95% of which cannot be found anywhere in the world.
Has everything competitors have like game mountains and valleys not least a the friendliness of its people to foreigners which is largely absent in competing countries like Kenya and South Africa.
Five sites earmarked for ecotourism development namely Likhubula Falls on Mount Mulanje in the south, Manchewe Falls at Livingstonia in Rumphi in the north, Kande Beach in Nkhata Bay in the north, Maleri Islands in Lake Malawi and the nature sanctuary in Lilongwe are by far one of the most beautiful in the region.
Malawi is very well placed to learn the hard-won lessons from the many triumphs - and disasters- that have marked the long gestation periods through to the present maturity of tourism Markets such as in Kenya and RSA.
The strength of its slogan: THE WARM HEART OF AFRICA’
Lack of controls, structured planning and systems in many operational areas.
Poor performance of agency operations that in-turn affects other profitable products with more potential.
Bureaucratic culture with minimum flexibility on the part of the department of tourism.
Inability to meet corporate objectives of the department.
Lack of understanding the impact of global competition in areas of tourism as evidenced through underfunding of the department of tourism especially in foreign missions making tourism attaches operations almost impotent.
Poor infrastructure especially in the areas of road and telecommunication networks to most prime tourist destinations.
Lack of tourism appreciation as a shared responsibility across government and private sectors operations.
Exorbitant flight and hospitality prices due to low volumes of visitors.
Lack of website facility. It is somewhat comical for a department sharing the same ministry with the department of information to operate without internet.
The world has become technological oriented making it almost impossible to participate in global market without the use of internet.
Presence of Bilharzia Lake Malawi in especially in the Southern part of Malawi (Cape Maclear)as a threat to the Tourism industry. This problem is used by competing countries to decampaign Malawi as a Tourism area.
The presence of already established local agents in many countries with better knowledge of regional competitors like Kenya and south Africa.
Direct advertising and promotion done by competing countries in most of the overseas markets through their well funded embassies will pose huge threat.
Rapid increase in competition for certain products, like safari tours in countries with improved telephone and road networks which drives down margins.
The increasing numbers of new entrants like Zambia,Tanzania Mozambique and Zimbabwe who have increased their tourism budgets and agency operations at an alarming rate.
Many other countries around the globe are gradually gaining a considerable share of destination tourism market especially in the Middle East and eastern Europe.
The reputation of a stable and peaceful nation has not been utilised to gain a competitive advantage
Tragedies in Kenya’s terrorism attacks and increasing cases of crime in south Africa not least Zimbabwe’s political impasse against the western democratic countries offers an opportunity.
Increasing demand for specialized advertising modes, which gives access to target customer segments, E.g.-targeting the Scottish people to experience the Scottish highlands in a tropical climate. The Scottish Malawi partnership could help in this area, by establishing links with all the Scottish universities and travel agents and their public to exploit opportunities of the special relationship between the two countries.
Growing demand for eco tourism destinations due to increase income levels in most European economies with many customers identifying its benefits & potential.
The availability of information to customers via the internet
The expansion of the AU community through NEPAD initiatives provides an opportunity for migration and integration between member state.
1.5 CHANGING FOR FUTURE GROWTH
1.5.1 Introduction - Future Changes
In light of the risks and challenges in performance currently experienced by the department it is evident that some drastic changes are required if the tourism in Malawi is to grow. Therefore a new strategy is needed to ensure that Malawi meets its future growth and objectives.
A ‘growth strategy focused on key products with better potential and contribution’ will therefore be required for the Government. This effectively means that there will be certain radical changes taking place internally and the Government should be able to implement these changes successfully.
1.5.2 Why a Growth Strategy is Important?
As outlined in the situation analysis the competition in the market is increasing by day. Especially this is seen in the neighbouring countries like Tanzania and Mozambique. As a result the Government should come up with strategies to counter attack the competitors and reduce the business risk.
The recent performances of statistical visits to Malawi are not impressive. As a result this change is much needed in the Department.
The Government should aim at attracting more funds through floating in the alternative investment market from the private sector to support diversification and growth. Therefore it will be necessary to have a healthy and continuous growth which will give more confidence for any potential investors.
On the other hand the organic growth at the current rate is too low for the department of tourism to remain competitive in future. From a strategic point of view the Government through its strategic document 2003-2008 has a very ambitious diversification strategies and to achieve this, there should be sufficient reserves for investment. The low organic growth will definitely not support Government on achieving its long term goals. So far the Government has introduced many new projects without creating a sustainable infrastructure to support the proposed eco tourism and this will have a huge impact on its success.
For a poor country like Malawi the competitive advantage will be through identifying niche market opportunities especially the interest groups segment and becoming more innovative and capitalizing on these opportunities.
In order to do this the Government should overcome its internal barriers and weaknesses. Therefore it is important that the existing product portfolio is performing well and gives the required return in order to minimize the risk and go for new opportunities.
The above issues have made change inevitable for the department of tourism.
It is important that the changing process for growth is planned properly and more importantly implemented effectively to achieve the objectives.
1.5.3 What Changes are Needed?
To maintain tourism growth and achieve its goals it is important to identify the growth drivers for the department. These are critical areas for achieving growth in the highly competitive tourism industry and thereby eventually meet the overall corporate goals.
The whole focus ontourism should change across the ministry and its related departments to adopt a more enterprise approach by creating an environment where each and every project should be able to support itself in future. Tourism may be a growth industry, but it is a competitive business also. My point is a simple one. To get the maximum benefit from tourism in any country facilities must be of an improving standard.
So the costs of developing tourism, not least for Malawi, will inevitably be high, and especially for central and local administrations. The current budget of MK37 million is way low and cannot retain satisfactory results. I understand the current economic impasse and do agree to extent when it comes to difficulties in sourcing out funds to finance a competitive campaign.
On the other hand, I believe a realistic figure can be raised through a government-and private partnership through creation of a multi sectoral organisation- say “MALAWI TOURISM BOARD where substantial investment is involved by both government and the private sector to promote Malawi’s tourism.
To achieve this, there is an urgent need to introduce an entrepreneurial oriented tourism body called “MALAWI TOURISIM BOARD”. By creating and delivering community-driven planning processes through Malawi’s tourism board it will be easy to come up with Sustainable Tourism Destinations.
1.6 Malawi Tourism Board (MTB)
To attract the luxury cadre of tourists, Malawi needs to develop an appropriate vision and long-term strategy and start rebuilding its capacity to deliver high-quality products.
The tourism vision for the country could be built around pro-poor and sustainable development, based on the tourism products in which the country has comparative advantages.
1.6.1 MTB’s Main Functions and Tasks
To host communities for the investment of their resources in tourism development.
To integrate tourism into the social and cultural fabric of community life.
To create community understanding and enthusiasm for tourism.
To attract the right visitors and create high quality experiences for them that reflects well on the community and its residents.
To give direction for development of tourism businesses.
To generate fiscal and economic benefit through increased tax revenue, job creation, employment and income.
To encourage sustainable resource use.
To enhances preservation of the natural and cultural heritage.
To retains scenic values and sense of place.
To develop Destination MALAWI Campaign
1.7 Branding Malawi
Uniquely Malawi - Unique is the word that best captures Malawi, a dynamic country rich in contrast and colour where you'll find a harmonious blend of culture, cuisine, arts and an extraordinary chance to commune with nature in all her magnificence.
A bridge between Southern Africa and Eastern Africa for centuries, Malawi described by many as “the WARM HEART OF AFRICA” continues to embrace tradition and modernity today.
Set in the heart of pristine wild landscape, and the friendly people brimming with unbridled energy and bursting with exciting cultural events, the country commands spectacular views over lake Malawi where the full moon gazes at her own reflection and countless unique, memorable experiences waiting to be discovered. A single day's trails will take you from the past to the future, from a colourful ethnic enclave to an efficient business centre in three cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu, from serene gardens in Zomba the old capital to sleek mountainous skyscrapers in Mulanje.
Malawi is truly a country like no other, a world of possibilities. With its friendly and welcoming people, state-of-the-art infrastructure and something new happening everyday, your stay will be a memorable mix-and-match of all the things you have always wanted to do. Come and enjoy countless fascinating experiences, and take away memories that are uniquely MALAWI.
1.7.1 Communicating the Brand
To make this effective, there will be a need to come up with a Brand development unit within the Malawi tourism board where the Brand Management division’s task will be to develop the destination brand and maps out the strategy to effectively communicate the brand essence and brand promise of Malawi to all key stake-holders, local and overseas, and potential travelers to Malawi. Internationally, it works with the Board's Regional offices as impactful advertising campaigns and invite high-profile international media like SKY, CNN, ITV, and SABC to mention a few to increase the visibility of the destination. It will also be important to communicate this through the use of various media and distribution channels such as advertising, brochures, collaterals, videos, photography and online initiatives.
The division will need to work with third party destination information providers and expatriate organizations and where possible be the official custodians of the “visitmalawi.co.mw or malawitourism.com. This will ensure that the destination brand remains consistently applied to the visitor and awareness of the destination brand continues to be reinforced. While the primary audience is the traveler, the brand awareness among Malawians and residents is also important. This includes a comprehensive domestic tourism program, strategic outdoor advertising and communications platforms such as signages and display panels in immigration checkpoints, airports and districts with high tourist traffic. The overall objective is to achieve strong brand recognition among travelers and position Malawi as a premier travel destination In Africa.
1.7.2 Film in Malawi Scheme
The Film in Malawi Scheme (FIM) is another strategy which can be used to increase the prospect of attracting tourists in Malawi. Recent statistics concerning visitors statistics are somewhat disappointing considering that many of those came from our neighboring countries. In essence, this implies that since we share most of these tourist attraction centers, there will be no need for them to visit those places.
If tourism is to be worth rewarding, we will need to have people who can spend not less than $1000.00 in Malawi. The FILM IN MALAWI SCHEME in this way will help to facilitate international film-makers and broadcasters in the shooting, production and post-production of quality movies and television programs in Malawi. The program will aim to promote Malawi as an attractive destination for international visitors through the effective medium of movies and television.
Through FIM each film-maker or broadcaster may be granted negotiated duty waiver support, on a case-by-case basis and/or project facilitation and information provision. Each project could be evaluated with specific focus on how the film or program will uniquely showcase Malawi's locations like Nyika Plateu, Cape Maclear, Mulanje Mountain and or Dzalanyama range.
It may also a be a good idea to convince the state house to make available some of its state residencies like Sanjika palace and Chikoko Bay to the targeted filming organizations. If this is fine by them, the department of tourism could then use this as a unique selling preposition to woe the target audience ie Celebrities and firm makers .
In addition to that on-going international press promotion with paid up page supplements in major magazines like people, spectator hellow etc could be launched,this time concentrating on experiences available in the country which may include paying for one or two, full colour advertisements on opposite sides of major newspapers and suggested magazines featuring the celebs having fun in Malawi while creating an interesting and highly visual 'story' and a link through to country's tourism web sites.The aims here are simple.To increase awareness and recognition of the Malawi tourism brand.
1.7.3 Short Term Planning
In the short and medium term it is advisable for the country to continue relying on a blend of high- and low-volume markets as it raises the quality of tourist assets and service. A simultaneous but gradual increase in prices would restrict tourist numbers and enable the resources to recover. Once resources have recovered sufficiently and facilities and services have been improved, prices could be raised to a level sufficient to turn the country or designated parts of it into a high-value tourist market.
High-value tours to game parks or wildlife safaris complemented by quality resort beach along the shores of Lake Malawi holidays remain Malawi’s primary tourist products. But Malawi’s natural environment, cultural diversity and the people themselves have the potential to give the country distinctiveness.
In the immediate interim, Malawi should adopt an aggressive marketing oriented approach and take competition seriously by taking the fight right into competitors or market leaders own backyard notably South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Dynamic marketing campaign designed to intensify its efforts to attract more travellers from the Eastern African Republics and South African visitors to Malawi.
For south Africa, this can be done by targeting reputable travel agents like Renies, Travellex while posters of “WARM HEART OF AFRICA” sponsored by visitmalawi.co.mw/visitmalawi.com could then be placed on major bus liners like Greyhound, City to City and Messina –Johannesburg minibuses often called kombis and other leading safari tour companies.
As for Kenya, six Kenyan travel agents, Bunson's Travel and Style, Raj Air, Muthaiga, Holiday Bazaar and Going Places will need to be partnered with Malawi Tourism Board for the roll-out of the ground-breaking campaign.
Captivating billboards visible at strategic points including the airport and shopping malls - posters, brochures and multi-media presentations will all be used to nurture a more informed awareness of Malawi and its diverse attractions. In addition, a deal-driven campaign will offer value-for-money packages designed around the warmth of the people and the beauty of its nature hence-‘WARM HEART OF AFRICA’
Adding an element of excitement to the campaign will be a competition that involves one of Kenya's largest retailers, Uchumi. Weekly draws of discounted tickets with air Malawi and interested hotels will need to take place every weekend with prizes consisting of hampers from all the Sponsors. The final draw could then see the winner walking away with a dream holiday for two to Malawi, including business class on Air Malawi tickets and accommodation for seven days.
The main objective here will be:
To increase the volume of tourist arrivals, spend, and length of stay;
To improving seasonality and geographic spread; and promoting transformation within the local industry.
It comes without saying that South Africa and Kenya are key Emerging markets and most likely first choice for Western travellers, hence why it is important to target them whilst holidaying in their preferred destinations.
One of the challenges however will be to convince business travellers to also experience Malawi as a preferred holiday destination. We already have an enviable reputation throughout the continent as a peaceful nation full of untapped resources. The disadvantage to that is that we have a very poor infrastructure good enough to provide a widespread offering of world-class tourism products, The question in this regard will be “are we most definitely well equipped to achieve our goals. ?
1.7.4 Long Term
The long-term tourism development strategy could be based on the following elements:
Integration of tourism planning into overall national planning
Pursuance of sustainability
Improvement of competitiveness
Regional cooperation and collaboration
Development of an institutional framework for stakeholder dialogue and Partnerships
Conservation of natural resources
Appropriate and effective marketing and promotion
Effective public sector support
Capacity development and research
Development of a dynamic technology strategy
Deliberate strategies to maximize net social gains from tourism
1.7.5 Summary on Tourism
Malawi tourism remains a chicken and egg situation. Mass tourism, as such, is unlikely to feature in the early evolution of Malawi's International tourism industry.
It is the high cost of air travel to Malawi which creates this continuing 'chicken and egg' situation. Relatively low volumes of visitors equals high air fares; inadequate or inappropriate infrastructure equates to insufficient visitor arrivals to generate the revenues required to invest in upgrading and modifying the existing infrastructure to attract them in the first place.
Chicken and egg. Venture capital will not be attracted to cater for mass markets that are unlikely to appear - even assuming such a model is desirable or sustainable - within a reasonable investment cycle.
On the positive side, Malawi is very well placed to learn the hard-won lessons from the many triumphs - and disasters- that have marked the long gestation periods through to the present maturity of tourism Markets such as in Kenya and RSA.
Tourists will not come in sustainable numbers if there is no the Infrastructure in place to support them. Without tourists to sustain such an infrastructure, investment in its development will remain at best patchy. Malawi's tourism success lies in maximising the Scottish -Malawi partnership relationship.
For ages, the scottish people have shown un paralled love for Malawi.In their smallness, they have done what they can for the counry.They are therefore better placed to be charged with the responsibility of promoting Malawi tourism in scotland. They have the money and purchasing power.
The relatioship between the scottish and the Malawi people need to move from donor -partners to business partners.They have the experience and resources not least access to the world markets.
There is a need to enterprise the relationship
As I have observed a number of times over the years on Nyasanet and Malawitalk debates on this very subject;
The chief obstacle to attracting overseas tourists to Malawi remains the relatively high cost of getting there. That cost factored in to any package makes the product uncompetitive in the mass market in comparison with Kenya, RSA etc. etc. Without comparable infrastructure and the related product cost economies the airlines and tour operators will look elsewhere.
Other factors such as increasing population density placing unsustainable pressures on the flora and fauna will also eventually make Malawi less desirable as a destination. Fewer trees in an eroded landscape sustaining fewer animals. The answer In the short/medium term anyway is Niche Marketing. Selling bespoke, high value products to special interest groups. For example, targeting the Scottish people to experience the Scottish highlands in a tropical climate. The Scottish Malawi partnership could help in this area, by establishing links with all the Scottish universities and travel agents to increase Malawi's tourism awareness in Scotland.
Packages such as Chilembwe Trail or Livingston’s Trail will be quite attractive to students.
For example, I know some one who did a detailed research on John Chilembwe Trail and has produced detailed, related proposals. He has even researched the very narrow area within which he was buried:
Identified by an octogenarian ex-Mulanji boma colonial sergeant in the 1950s who was a member of the secret burial detail. There are many other niche markets I have identified to be tapped which would profitably link-in many elements of the existing infrastructure.
At present there are probably too many hotel and resort beds chasing too few visitors. This inevitably leads to a diminution of quality and Standards. Perhaps Malawi might be better served discussing the possibilities with people Who have made substantial profits in tourism for the companies they managed in Malawi, rather than paying high consultancy fees to outsiders with little or no Practical or pragmatic experience of the realities of running hotels and tour operations in the Warm Heart of Africa, let alone have an affinity to its peoples, history and culture