Carvalho Muária, Mozambican Minister of Tourism, discusses with Upper Reach his country’s nascent tourism sector and the importance of getting the local population involved in what can be a highly lucrative sector
The discovery of mineral resources provided the country with a platform from which we can look into the future development of many sectors, among which is the tourism sector – one of the most important and sustainable. What are your growth perspectives for this sector?
The African continent is, today, a continent of the future of human and economic development. Looking at Mozambique, we still not only have resources to discover but also virgin areas to explore. Mozambique is a rich country, albeit with limitations, but in terms of natural resources it is extremely rich. Today we talk about coal, gas and perhaps we will soon be talking about oil. The Mozambican soil is very fertile and our agriculture still serves as the means for subsistence. We do not use much mechanised agriculture. We are a peaceful nation; amiable which easily creates friendships with others, making the economic wealth complement the social.
In the context of tourism, the entire country offers touristic potential; in each region wonderful things can be seen. The challenge is to transform that potential into a desirable tourism product and we are working on that. Throughout these 13 years of the Ministry, we have done a series of activities: we took inventories of those potentially touristic areas of the country and created a legal base, the strategic plan for the development of tourism which took us to identify Areas of Touristic Interest. From there the anchor-projects came about (Zambézia) and projects in the north (Nampula and Cabo Delgado). These projects take us to improving people’s lives.
Today, and throughout the entire country, interesting projects are happening: our coastline has 2500 kilometres and along it we find several tourist resorts like lodges in the area of Inhambane, Gaza in the Quirimbas Archipelago where there are luxury resorts. Our challenge is to create wealth with this beautiful land we have.
Another challenge we have, mainly after the discovery of mineral resources, is with the business hotels; we are starting to experience problems due to the shortage of accommodation. There are periods in which we have over 10,000 beds but we do not have the space and in order to resolve this issue we are promoting and attracting investment for the construction of business hotels.
Today, Mozambique, as stated by the Minister of Transport and due to the situation we are talking about, must take advantage of all the opportunities that arise because these are rare, and can appear every 100 years. We want to leave a legacy from the next generation.
Along with that, another challenge we have is the capacity to say that the tourism sector contributed an “x” value toward the economy of the country. Unfortunately, we still do not have that data. In the period between 2011-2012 we contributed 2.5% to GDP in a direct way, but in my opinion, there is still a “gap” because if we were to look closely, the reality is that we find many tourism activities but we have a deficit in terms of the registers of that data for us to see how much the sector has contributed toward our economy.
We hope that the local population gets engaged in a synergetic rural tourism.
Local tourism is indispensable. Mozambicans need to know what the country possesses for its own citizens and thus turn people into defenders of that wealth. Does the logic that once the population gets involved in domestic tourism and defends it, it will become much easier to communicate to foreigners the greatness of the potential Mozambique has?
That is exactly what we expect: not only do we defend the animals but we also make the population understand the touristic wealth we have. Up till not long ago, in the province of Gaza, we inaugurated a communal lodge in which the community signed a contract with an investor to manage the lodge and share the dividends with the community at the end of the year. This community is satisfied with the results and next week they will travel to South Africa to attend one of the largest tourism fairs in the region in order to exchange ideas and promote that lodge.
We have a big challenge: since tourism is a non-exhaustive activity, the sector could be the cushion of the future of the country’s economy. We also think about the education of staff in the tourism area, in all levels: from restaurants, hotels, planners, etc. and we are working with the World Tourism Organization and some countries that help us in the education area.
What is the strategy that MITUR has in order to face the appreciation of local currency, which as a consequence results in more expensive prices for tourists?
The price is expensive for several reasons. Firstly, the price of an airplane ticket between Maputo and Tete is comparable with, for example, an airplane trip between Maputo and Portugal. We are in negotiations with the countries in our region to attract more airline companies to Mozambique – currently we have Qatar, Kenyan, South African and Ethiopian and we are negotiating with Emirates and British Airways which already came here last week to conduct a study – so that there is more competition, and consequently, lower prices as well as more direct flights.
Because our hotels are few, the competition is limited and, again, prices are high. However, if there were many hotels, the price would come down. We are working to attract more investors to main cities and districts. This strategy aims not only to reduce costs but also to allow Mozambicans to engage in more local tourism.
The airports of Maputo and Beira were reconditioned, and we are renovating the Pemba airport, which is almost shut down due to the construction work. We reconditioned Vilankulo Airport (which is one of the best airports in the country), and we will resume the construction of the Tete Airport because the existing one is sitting on coal reserves.
In the northern region of the country, in the district of Palma, and in the district of Mocímboa da Praia, which is where all small planes land, we need an airport and we already have begun building.
What efforts are being made to improve the state of national roads such as the EN6, which compared with EN1 (road N1) is in a critical condition?
The rehabilitation work will begin this year (we plan to have it built by last December but due to bureaucratic issues we had to postpone it to this year). The EN6 runs to the border with Zimbabwe and will be one of the best roads. It will link Zambia, Zimbabwe and Congo with Beira which will be the entry point for the countries of the SADC.
In the colonial times, people would leave Zimbabwe and Malawi for Beira, because those countries do not have sea; little by little, people already go to Beira for tourism, to spend the weekend and we have to increase the growth of this region.
Around 2 million tourists visit Mozambique annually. What is it being sought with tourism: quantity or quality of tourists?
We want both of those things. More people and better quality; however, we have the issue of lodging. For example, if the German group Tool, which has already contacted us because they want our market, comes with flights with 1,000 booked seats, we will not have the means to host them; Russia, which normally tends to travel to the Middle East, wants to come to Mozambique with nearly 1,500 people for 15 days to do a “sun tour.” Our challenge is to figure out how to host those 1,000 people, what diversified activities to do, etc.
It is necessary to communicate the need for investment in hotels, airlines, etc. because contrary to what happens in Europe, which has the money but lacks the opportunities, in Mozambique there exist many opportunities but there is a lack of money to invest in those.
It is because of that that we participate in almost all international tourism fairs, exactly to show our opportunities for any tourism investment, be these hotels, lodges, and in the areas of conservation. We have “sun and beach” tourism, synergic, composed of hotel and catering of drinks.
Our strong message is for investors to come invest in Mozambique, which is a rich country, the best to stay and to build their lives.
Where would you like the tourism sector go in the next ten years?
I want to see our country, by 2025, with sustainable tourism, the majority of resources being brought as wealth for ourselves. Have enough accommodation in all cities, receive 300 people who would be able to find an endless number of leisure activities with trained staff in the sector.