Photo credit. Selfie while waiting for a Youth in Tourism Meeting at Africa Development Bank.
Here’s something I never thought I’d ever say: atleast not now, but, this is my last month in active tourism career.
This post is very much a personal one. Rather than sharing insights on tourism or travel , I’d like to walk through my inner journey the past few years that I have been in this industry.
It’s a journey that’s left me itching for change to go elsewhere and set up a new home base and start a new career all together.
How I landed in Lilongwe all geared to turn a round the tourism industry. I moved to Lilongwe during the winter of 2014, a little over three years ago. I had just dropped out of college and serendipitously landed here because of a new project we intended to launch. I was eager and anxious to start my career in tourism out here and frankly had no idea what to expect.
As it turned out, I lucked out — Lilongwe is one of the best places in this country for entrepreneurs, tourism business, and anyone bold enough to try and change the country's economy through entrepreneurial activities.
This was a stark contrast to life in my previous hometowns of Mchinji, Nsanje, Chikwawa and somehow Mangochi where most people went to the community schools, pursued 7-to-5 jobs, and settled into comfortable lives by their 30s. There was very little space there for thinking big, or taking risks, or creating your own career path except for Mangochi where people take risks to travel to South Africa for different reasons.
So, moving to Lilongwe was the best kind of culture shock imaginable. Suddenly, I was surrounded by technology and innovation and immersed in a community where challenging yourself was actually encouraged and the media was always on your door to follow what is happening.
The next three years of living in this city and in the tourism industry has had a path-altering impact on my life, as I began to learn that crazy ideas aren’t “crazy” for those of us willing to put in the work and take a few risks. Yes risks.
First challenge: GIANTPLUS with C Tech Systems.
That first post-college project was as a business development manager for Giantplus where I was able to learn how tech companies build products and turn them into a valuable business, how financials work at a fundamental level through working with the founders of C Tech. This was hugely beneficial when I later moved on to working on some tech stuff on my own, and planted the seeds of my interest in solving problems with software and digital aids.
After a year at Giantplus, however, I realized that working with a team not 100% committed to the project was draining me. It became a risk running this project as my reputation as an individual was being put to question. But I was not a technician and I did not have answers to technical challenges the platform was facing. I wanted to go back to being in tourism proper as I had been taught in college. So I decided to go against the grain and say goodbye, closed shop at Giantplus Tourism.
Where was I off to next?
Second challenge: Qoncept Creative.
Well, I was on the brink of leaving to join as a partner for an events startup Events265. But after a random cold call followed by a long series of unexpected events, I got an offer to join Qoncept Creatives on the deal team for part time to cover for Nora who was busy that time for Oliver Mtukudzi Concert and then Stevie Bedi. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up — and thank God I didn’t.
I spent the next 6 months at Qoncept where I worked with and learned from the pioneers of the "top notch events organisers", like Qabaniso, Tammy, Nora, DJ Kali, and many others. I saw lots of companies come to Qoncept for their events — I saw their ideas, their amazing teams, their challenges and their strengths. I learned the ins and outs of building a successful events company, and on the flip side, learned the common mistakes that lead to success most importantly, I met incredible entrepreneurs who inspired me to also become like them one day.
Third challenge:Returning to Tourism.
When I left Qoncept, I made the transition to tour operations. I was young and wanted to go out and just create stuff for the industry. You could say that I had “entrepreneur envy” — I was eager to create products and services day to day, and eventually start my own tour operations company Uwawuke Bicycle Tours. I’ve written about my experience extensively in the past.
This transition was nothing short of amazing. I was learning and growing at a break-neck pace. I was passionate and excited by my work. Frankly, I was having so much fun being an a tour guide that not a single day felt like “work”.
But beyond just loving my work, I also felt empowered. Empowered to do things I never thought were possible before. Because being an tour operator gave me freedom. Freedom to create anything I want, whenever I want and wherever I want. The freedom to learn how people live at local level. The freedom to teach and empower new local women about tourism. And most importantly, the freedom to be a creator and literally, create something from nothing.
When things started to feel differentIt was only after I left to return to pick up a job at MTC that my feelings about a career in tourism started to change.
Thanks to the freedoms of the industry lifestyle, I had to travel more and meet people from all around the world —and I started to see that tourism wasn’t the only field where economic changing ideas, technology, and innovation can happen.
What I once thought was only something I could do in tourism, was starting to appear in every field I had chance to learn about. Early seeds of tech and innovation which were planted in in me begun to see opportunities in other fields.
This isn’t exactly a surprise, since one of my core pursuits is to access knowledge of everything. I personally taught myself almost everything I know about programming on the internetfor free. And I’m just one of thousands of learners using the Internet to access information that used to be limited to elite colleges.
These days, techies aren’t limited to Poly or NACIT or Mzuni. So I decided to focus on learning tech and digital marketing.
The exploitation in tourism.
Despite it being the said hope for economic recovery for the nation for decades, I’m not the only one to notice a degree of homogeny in tourism.
What makes it homogenous is that everyone seems to have a similar story — whether they are hotel owners, mangers, workers, tour operators, product managers, investors or just enthusiast. The career paths and goals may be different from what the other industries offer… but within the industry, you always hear the same stories over and over.
Every conference I go, every hotel I have gone to or restaurant I ate at, I hear people talking about their low pay, too many levies, and investment environment etc. What was once a beautiful industry— the game changer for me — is no longer beautiful to me. I have started to notice a lot of similar thinking — group think as they call it.
Tourism is paradoxically a predictable industry founded on the idea of being exploitative.
My first business lesson:
Say “yes” to your desires and create your own path. This isn’t to say being in tourism hasn’t taught me anything important. It’s been a perfect field to learn to take risks. A place to learn the value of creating your own path, and to prove to myself that I can do it. While pursuing my career, I’ve made a deliberate effort to say yes to my dreams. I wanted the freedom to build anything I want, and I earned that. I wanted to learn and grow as quickly as possible, and I’ve proven that. I wanted to meet people from around the world and learn from them, and I got that. I wanted to find my purpose instead of following a “successful” path, and I did that.
Most importantly, I wanted to pave a path that is unique to me, and I’m doing exactly that right now. I’m only a couple years into it, and the future feels unlimited.
Looking back, when I left Unima to pursue this path, I set out a three-part roadmap for myself:
Figure out what I like developing the most.
Get really good at it.
Use those skills to have a positive impact on the world.
I spent the past two years learning many different skills (e.g. web development, mobile apps development, networking skills, media buying etc.) I purposely stayed broad and exposed myself to as much as possible against people's advice to focus, and learned to create things that interested me most. Eventually, I fell in love with media and PR to be precise.
My fascination with media started way back but got stronger when I won best innovative media platform at Lake of Stars 2015, and ever since, I’ve been keeping up with the media and eventually took up several roles as a spokesperson and appeared in the media more often, which helped me further dive deeper into the space. My recent consultancy gigs continue to tinker and teach me various aspects of digital marketing and PR, and now I’m at phase two.
.... to be continued
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.