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More talk, less action on tourism development

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Malawi has joined the rest of the world in celebrating Tourism Day that falls on September 27. Typical of us, Malawians, we have pretended that one day was not enough and decided to busy ourselves the whole of September to promote tourism.

And as a country, we have made a right decision to bill tourism as one of the pillars to propel economic development.

But that is as far as we can and have gone: Declarations!

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The joke that is local tourism

Just a few years ago, government came up with a brilliant idea to promote local tourism. The catch phrase in that campaign was: Tidziyamba ndife a Malawi (Malawians should participate in local tourism). But as said, that is how far the government went: Declaration.

Most Malawians would like to visit tourist resorts and facilities. The challenge is that the cost surpasses the disposable income that indigenous Malawians have.

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For instance, a plate of a local staple—nsima—would cost a local Malawian K12,000 at a local hotel in town. This means an average family of six will need K72,000 to eat out minus the soft drinks. Add fuel or bus fare to that. By the time that struggling Malawi returns home, they will have parted ways with something in the region of K120,000. How many indigenous Malawians, including middle managers, can afford that?

Traditional economics will determine that the K12,000 that can be spent on a plate of nsima and ndiwo can buy a 50 kilogramme bag of maize that can feed the whole family for a whole month. Does this need an interpretation from the World Bank to tell a Malawian that going for local tourism will mean living beyond one’s means?

Then there is this strange tendency among hospitality players especially in the lakeshore district of Salima where the word value addition or customer care does not exist. Just visit most of the lodges (for that is what they call those tiny rooms with smelly linen) in Salima and you will be shocked by the contempt that the operators show to their clients.

A client is told that a room will cost K15,000 but if they want to use an air conditioner, then it will cost K18,000 per night. The same applies to use of those tiny ugly boxes that purport to be television screens. A traveller has to part with an extra K2,000 to watch the screen which usually show free-to-air channels.

To add insult to the injury, the lodge operators will keep the remote control just to deny a tourist access to either the air conditioner or the television screen.

Lack of communication

In this era where customer care is a basic component of any business, Malawian tourist players need to be told that communication is of essence. It starts right at our bus depots in towns and cities. The bus operators will employ some vendors to fill up the buses to give an impression that the buses are about to start—off. One would only be surprised that three hours later, the bus is yet to be full and depart as the “timing boys” (vendors) alight from the bus one by one as genuine passengers board.

Once at a tourist place, a guest would not be told that the taps are dry. Some operators even cut the toilet tissue and a tablet of toilet soap for a guest to use.

Meals also leave a lot to be desired; they are either undercooked or overdone. You do not get the freshness that you would expect from an agriculture country. And to mask such bad jobs, the operators usually add too much spice to the meals, putting the guests at a risk of developing a running tummy.

Mice tourism

The world is abuzz with the concept of Mice tourism. This is not about the mice that you see as you drive through Balaka district. It stands for Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing and Exhibition. While our hotels would charge a minimum of $100 per day per head, elsewhere they charge per room. And the room charge includes a lot of incentives such as excursions to places of interests within a hotel’s catchment area.

Elsewhere, hotel operators will ensure that they collaborate with taxi operators and vendors at craft markets to help tourists access souvenirs. But here, a tourist would be insulted right outside the airport terminals by minibus touts as they jostle for his penny.

With our unmetered taxis, operators charge based on the client’s skin colour or size of waist. This frustrates tourists who are so exposed and are used to being orderly. Our flea market vendors are no exception either.

Weak policies

Government must come up and enforce policies that will regulate and bring sanity in the tourism sector. Malawi has huge potential in the sector. It does not require a lot of investment to make an investment. A bit of investment and change of attitude in tourism sector can bring fortune to Malawi.

Clinging to useless taxes such as visas and fees at nature sanctuaries will just prove counterproductive. Other countries whose tourism sector is better managed, such as Kenya, have done away with such charges. Tourists will not visit the country just because we claim to be a warm heart of Africa. We need to show that the tourists will feel warm by having uninterrupted power supply, good internet connectivity and tight security, among other factors.

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