* One of the key challenges that affects proper planning and drafting of informed policies in most African countries is data availability
* And in the case where such data is available, it is often outdated by three to five years
* Malawi tourism contributes an estimated 7.7% to the GDP, which received 431,999 international visitors in 2021
* Compared to 198,905 international visitors in 2020 representing 117.2% increase
By Duncan Mlanjira
South Africa-based Don Consultancy Group Chief Economist, Chifipa Mhango says “Malawi should also embrace fellow African countries, for they are the key countries of origin for international travellers/tourist into the country, and a key reminder that a tourist means a traveller”.
This is after he did a high-level analysis to paint a picture of the tourism landscape of Malawi, in which he noted that the country is relying on the available latest data from National Statistics Office (NSO), which was last published in 2022, thus reflecting the position of 2021.
“I am reliably informed that tourism data report for 2022 data is being compiled,” he said. “It must be acknowledged that one of the key challenges that affects proper planning and drafting of informed policies in most African countries is data availability — and in the case where such data is available, it is often outdated by three to five years.
“This is the challenges that most African countries face, to which Malawi is not spared. As I further reflected on the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Lazarus Chakwera of February 9, my mind led me to inform the nation further on the tourism picture for Malawi — based on the available latest data, as stated above.
“In the President’s speech, he has once again articulated his ATM Strategy for the Malawi economy, which is based on the principle of encouraging the growth of agriculture, tourism and the mining sectors — as a catalyst for economic growth.
“A concept which I totally support, as I also endorsed and participated in the Malawi Investment Forum of Johannesburg, South Africa in May 2023. It is, therefore, important that as Malawi embarks on this journey towards attracting international travel/tourism into Malawi as per any category, that an idea is presented as where the nation is, based on latest published data.”
On the tourism front, Mhango shares the following based on NSO data of 2021 in which tourism contributes an estimated 7.7% to the GDP of Malawi, which received 431,999 international visitors in 2021 compared to 198,905 international visitors in 2020 representing 117.2% increase.
Total expenditure by international visitors in 2021 was K7.2 billion out of which K6.0 billion was spent by visitors who came for holiday — thus representing almost 83% of total expenditure.
“However, it would have added more value if data presented indicated expenditure patterns by country or region of origin,” he said. “Almost 71% of departing visitors, as per how data is captured, came to Malawi for work or business, and 23.7% to visit friends or relatives, while 5.5% visited for holiday.
“However, the data presented would have added more value if it indicated the reasons of travel by country or region of origin — Zambia (175,217) was the dominant it terms of country of origin, followed by Mozambique (125,915) and United Republic of Tanzania (84,955).
“For the markets outside Africa, Germany had the highest number of visitors (3,739) followed by India (1,778) and United Kingdom (855). It must be stated that, as per data from National Statistics Office, of the top 10 countries of origin in relation to international travellers/tourist to Malawi in 2021, eight are from African countries, and represent 90.9% of the visitor’s total number i.e that is almost 392,687 — with Zambia the highest as presented above and Nigeria being the least at 987.
“It will be interesting to dissect the reasons for travel into Malawi that dominate African visitors alone, or a conclusion as per overall reason above, could be work and business-related travel.
“What is compelling is that the number of international visitors to Malawi has declined significantly, from 2019 to 2021, from almost 801,500 to 431,999.
“It may be explained that CoVID-19 pandemic was the likely cause, as the 2020 number demonstrate a further drop to 198,905. So, one would assume the recovery process to reach back to the 2019 levels is on-going.
“What Malawi Tourism picture is also demonstrating is that most international travellers in Malawi use road transport at almost 68.4% of the total in 2021, while 31.2% use air transport with 0.1% water transport.
“The dominant age group of international travellers to Malawi are in the 35 to 49 years category, and the male population dominate 87.4% of total number of international visitors. Furthermore,44% of the total number of international travellers in Malawi use hotels /Inns/lodges for accommodation purposes.
“Again, such data could have also been presented by country or region of origin to inform a better marketing strategy for Malawi according to age and standard of accommodation.”
Mhango thus offers recommendations to Malawi Government based on the above empirical evidence, that:
1. It is very clear that fellow African countries relationship is key in boosting international travel to Malawi, therefore, the Malawi Government policies must be seen to embrace such and foster a culture of engagement where there are challenges;
2. Malawi Government should put up more effort towards attracting holiday or vacation tourism, which is the key source of tourism expenditure into Malawi, thus at 83%, as data suggests.
While we applaud catalysts process of scrapping Visa for 79 countries’ international travellers into Malawi, so many factors are at play in destination motivation such as culture, architecture, gastronomy, infrastructure, landscape, events, shopping, etc.
These features attract people to the destination and contribute to the overall experience of the trip. The ultimate primary purpose of attractions is to attract the customer’s attention so that they can come to a specific location and explore the various attractions on vacation.
In the travel and tourism industry, attractions, therefore, play a particularly important role as this attracts tourists from all over the world. Hence, we see international travellers flocking into certain countries despite the high Visa fees or restrictions;
3. The collection of data on Tourism and Migration in Malawi must be done frequently so that all relevant data that informs the national strategy and policy development are captured by drawing on lessons of monthly reports of countries such as South Africa that put tourism at the core of its Economic Growth Strategy.
A categorized reason of international travel into Malawi by region would also add more value, so that there a clear link on the origins of most expenditure, as Holiday/vacation international travel dominates expenditure, and the same applies to origin by age group and Sex, mode of transport by country or region of origin etc.
Malawi Government Departments in overall should embrace and align with President Chakwera vision of ‘ATM’ by improving capacity in data collection and move towards a quarterly or monthly report publication as a target.
4. As travel by road is the dominant mode of transport for international travellers into Malawi at 68.4%, efforts should be made to regularly improve the physical infrastructure to world class standards for smooth border movement as well as road network and move towards an integrated port of entry digitalisation process for travellers. This would bring efficiency even to the data collection process;
5. Malawi Government must encourage and incentivise more development of world class accommodation infrastructure to cater for the anticipated increase in number international travellers into Malawi, to which data reflects 44% of the total in 2021 use Hotels/Lodges/Inn as accommodation.
Several incentives can be formulated here, for example the concentration Lake Shore development has been in Salima and Mangochi, yet there are best views in areas of Chiweta in Rumphi and Usisya in Nkhata bay areas.
Government can then designate some of these unexploited areas with incentives such as any local ‘private entity that develops a 5-Star standard hotel in these unexploited designated areas will have a tax break of, let’s say, three to five years during the first five years of operation.
That can then assist the private entity to either repay the loan or support in further reactional facilities development like cable rides to the hills of Chiweta like the Cape Town Table Mountain famous holiday tourist attraction.
In the longer run, Malawi Government will gain more towards international tourism expenditure and as the entity start paying its taxes, after the tax break period. Scenery or views is one the strongest attraction of holiday/vacation travellers or tourist.
6. On the dominance of African travellers, it must be openly stated that the impact of religious international travellers/tourists into Malawi is new area of interest that Malawi Government should capitalise on.
A proper co-ordination with religious leaders is key. Just December 2023 alone, I can guarantee that religious travellers or tourist was among the highest;
7. I would also suggest international travellers/tourist regular surveys especially for those coming to Malawi on holiday/vacation, to identify the main attraction so that the country can grow that base, which is the largest spending category but small in numbers at only 5.5% of the total international travellers into in 2021, and also to inform policy direction on improvements.