Malawi's small tourism industry is undergoing a radical overhaul as the Government looks forward to a 21st Century of eco-tourism and sound resource management.
The surge in South Africa's tourism industry since the dismantling of apartheid has not gone unnoticed in the rest of southern Africa, not least in Malawi. Traditionally a destination for backpackers, ornithologists and botanists roaming across southern Africa, Malawi is now taking bold steps to develop tourism way beyond these narrow confines.
Under former President Banda's regime, the significance of tourism for the economy was understated to say the least. But the shift in perceptions at the top has been underlined by the creation of a dedicated Ministry of Tourism, replacing the former Tourism Department of a multi-portfolio Ministry of Wildlife and Conservation. A long-term integrated tourism development plan is now in place, and opportunities are opening up in association with Government projects in National Parks and Nature Reserves across the country.
For years the main tourism focus has been the country's inland sea, Lake Malawi, sometimes known as Calendar lake, running 365 miles north to south and 52 miles at its broadest point. Yet the Government recognises that Malawi has much more to offer, and is promoting its work in game conservation in the National Parks too - Nyika in the north, Kasungu in the centre, Lake Malawi at the southern tip of the lake, Liwonde on the Shire river and Lengwe in the south of the country - plus the Wildlife Reserves of Vwaza Marsh, Nkhotakota, Majele and Mmwabvi.
The Government is not blindly rushing into massive game tourism development however. The country is predominantly agricultural, with a high population density, and human conflict with wildlife is an age old problem, often exacerbated by large tourism developments.
Addressing a Southern Africa Travel Organisers Association (SATOA) meeting in London in October last year, Mr Jake Muwamba, High Commissioner for the Republic of Malawi in the United Kingdom, spoke on behalf of Malawi's Minister of Tourism, Mr Patrick Mbewe. He said: "The Malawi Government policy on wildlife and game conservation recognises that wildlife is an integral part of the overall land use policy for the country. The Government further recognises wildlife is a complex of renewable natural resources, with a range of both positive and negative values."
The Government wants to manage wildlife as professionally as...