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Tourism challenges overwhelm minister Jappie Mhando

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Information and Tourism Minister, Jappie Mhango, on Monday revealed a plan for a tourism conference to address some of the overwhelming issues he was showered with during a tour of tourism operators in Lilongwe.

Malawian Airlines and South African Airways (SAA) presented a number of challenges that are hampering their operations as the tourism and air transport sectors are failing to yield the maximum benefits amid the huge potential.

While SAA pleaded for more flights into Blantyre, Malawian Airlines said it is grappling with high cost of jet fuel, it being locally based and its plans to start flying to Nairobi have been affected by lack of pilots.

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SAA Country Manager, James Chikaonda, said the company has potential to grow and contribute more to the economy if it was given the chance.

“We need more flights into Blantyre because that destination is the hub of business in the country and the more flights we have the more we grow and that means more taxes and jobs to the country,” said Chikaonda.

He, however, appreciated government’s recent granting of two more flights by the company to Lilongwe.

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Chief Executive Officer of Malawian Airlines Kassim Geresu said the issue of jet fuel needs government attention as it impacts on the competitiveness.

“If the cost of jet fuel is reduced it will have an effect on the cost of flights. Government reduced the price but it was by a small margin,” said Geresu.

He further said the depreciation of the local currency has also affected the business.

On the positive note, the company said it has managed a good on time performance, measured by its ranking among 35 companies that fly into the region as it hovers between the second best and eighth.

According to Geresu, the local flag carrier is flying an average of 10,000 passengers a month but is failing to maximise flight frequency locally due to low business levels.

“We tried to introduce more flights but the market response has forced us to reduce the fares,” he said.

The company, which is a joint venture between government and Ethiopian Airlines has since trained 10 pilots out of which two are yet to be licensed.

“We have done a lot on local skills development since we started and 32 flight attendants and 10 pilots have been trained,” said Geresu.

On his part, Mhango said his impression of the tourism industry is that there are issues that need collaborative efforts by all stakeholders, calling for a conference that will involve all relevant ministries, organisations and companies.

“We need to work together towards a common vision because I have learnt that there is lack of collaboration among stakeholders and most of the issues that are coming out cannot be addressed by my ministry,” said Mhango.

Other firms the minister toured in Lilongwe on Monday and Tuesday include Skylinks, Ulendo, Ufulu Gardens and Central African Wilderness.

An earlier tourism conference which involved ministries of transport, foreign affairs and finance as well as air transport operators yielded the coming in of Fastjet.

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