Tourists buying fruits and vegetables from a local market. Photo credit: Uwawuke Bicycle Tours.
With 1 billion tourist arrivals, a number equivalent to the populations of Europe, USA, Mexico, and Panamá combined. Accounting for more than US$7.2 trillion (9.8% of global GDP) In 2015, as total contribution from travel & tourism to global GDP, tourism has all but established itself as one of the fastest-growing industries in the world.
In Malawi a total visitor arrivals were at 804,000 (NSO). Aggregate receipts at K221 billion, 7.2% of GDP while created 446,500 jobs representing 6.2 % of all jobs in Malawi. As a young Malawian person, I perceive tourism as an opportunity for job creation, enterprises development, economic diversification and a great means for protecting our cultures and the environment that our nation is so proud of.
Malawians are greatly affected by poverty, child malnutrition and now i see this often in our youth "alcoholism". On top of this, we have very limited access to basic public social and health services. SO we are mostly termed "One of the poorest nations in the world". Sigh!
Even though we are culturally and environmentally rich in some aspects, we face the highest rates of poverty, child mortality and illiteracy. I have hope that these challenges can be diminished if tourism were developed sustainably with our local leaders.
Tourism largely increases the amount of local social and economic development, providing opportunities for new businesses, encouraging investment and new services in the areas where it is embraced, and creating tangible economic value from natural and cultural resources of which Malawi is rich in. You may be asking, "So how hoes tourism help the economy of a destination?". This economic value, which comes from tourist spending, is used for the preservation of these resources, and promotes intercultural exchange as well as traditional forms of arts and craft. However, it may also have negative impacts on the natural environment as it increases air and water pollution, create labour issues and lead to overbuilding, all of which greatly influence the culture of our communities.
Enjoying a bottle of Fanta at a local shop with tourists.
The development of tourism in local areas still worries me. I have heard concerns from different people who go back to the villages where they grew up listening to the ancient chants of my grandparents and great-grandmother and watching in horror how plastics and cans were everywhere, floating away in the horizon. Tourism development happened so fast and without any regulation in these areas that there was no time to adapt to the changes. In order to achieve economic development through products derived from the tourism market, it is essential to develop special policies and programmes based on the three pillars of sustainability, which cover social, environmental and economical dimensions. If these sustainable programmes and policies are not put in place, not only will our environment be destroyed, but our cultures will be commoditized and vulnerable to becoming just a show for foreigners. This is the painful part of tourism development.
I cannot express how painful it is for me to know people in my community who no longer dance or dress in their native attires anymore and instead wait for tourists to take a picture of them in exchange for a dollar. If tourism is one of the most influential industries in the world, then it should be possible to develop it in a sustainable manner.
I deeply believe and have experienced that culture can serve as a main asset to attract tourists. Our countries with authentic lifestyles are able to offer tourists an experience that cannot be found in other parts of the world. It is up to our government to work together with our local traditional authorities in order to create tourism policies based on our traditions. After all, our communities have lived sustainably for centuries. Being one of the most influential industries in the world, I believe there should be no such a thing as sustainable tourism. All tourism development MUST be sustainable.
Now, Can Malawi Do Tourism?
Dennis Imaan is a Global Citizen born and currently staying in Malawi. He loves to share his experiences and lessons with others. Travel, Tourism, Innovations, Media and Youth development are close to his heart.