MOZAMBEACH

Mozambique 2016 | TOURISM | REVIEW: TOURISM

With white-sand beaches, scuba diving, and game reserves among its wide range of accommodation, Mozambique is a goldmine for tourism. However, to attract the number of tourists the country is aiming for, and entitled to, it will have to compete with its considerably more popular neighbors.

It may come as a surprise that Mozambique—with all its ideal tourism, assets like 2,700km of beaches, a rich and diverse cultural history, and an abundance of nature—suffers from some of the lowest tourism numbers in Southern Africa. The condition of the country's sluggish tourism industry in recent years has much to do with its civil war that ended over a decade ago. Before the country gained independence from Portugal, it enjoyed a wide tourist base from the region and parts of Europe, but the decade-and-a-half civil war left the country's tourism attractions and infrastructure all but destroyed. However, the aftermath and memories of the war have long ago started to dissipate, and though the industry has still significant progress to make, it has the resources and legacy to become one of the top tourist destinations in the Southern African region.

In 2014, tourism revenues reached $300 million, accounting for just below 3% of GDP. In 2016, the sector has nearly doubled and now accounts for 5.6% of GDP, and by 2025, its share is expected to increase by another 6.4%. The sector both directly and indirectly has supported over 710,000 jobs to date, a number that will grow marginally as the sector continues to develop. Tourist exports in 2014 left receipts for nearly MZN9 billion, making up 7.7% of the country's total exports.

The country's islands and capital are typically the most common destinations for tourists. Maputo is visited by fewer leisure tourists than those traveling to the country for business. In 2014, leisure tourism, among both domestic and international travelers, accounted for almost 47% of the sector's total contribution to GDP, generating MZN12 billion, while the 53% business tourism provided amounted to MZN13.6 billion. By 2025, leisure and business spending are expected to hit MZN24.2 billion and MZN23.9 billion, respectively. The profile of tourists is somewhat less proportionate—in 2014, 65% of tourism spending came from domestic tourists, with the remaining from foreign visitors. The majority of tourists coming to Mozambique are from the African continent, with a high portion of those coming from the SADC. Main source countries from Europe include Portugal, the UK, and Germany.

In Maputo, the government has been working to turn the city into a hub for meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) tourism, which has become a pillar for Maputo's tourism economy. The capital city has hosted conferences put on by domestic companies as well as those located in the SADC, attracting businesspeople from around the world.

Part of Mozambique's uniqueness lies in the fact it can offer five-star accommodation both on a white-sand beach and a camp in totally untouched areas of wilderness. The country has a score of would-be touristic hot spots—luxury hotels located on scenic shorelines or next to game reserves—but poor infrastructure prevents several such places from fulfilling their potential. Much of the market relies on business travel, and when it is summer in Europe, and European businesspeople are vacationing elsewhere in the world, income for Mozambican hotels is considerably affected. Recent developments in an entirely different sector may however provide some relief in this respect—the country's growing gas industry may spread benefits over to the tourism sector, with increased travel by potential investors and business people to the north of the country where the country's gas reserves are to be developed.

A large portion of Mozambique appears untouched. The Southern African nation is filled with protected areas and boasts three transnational parks, six national parks, and eight nature reserves, such as the Niassa Reserve in the north of the country, whose size is comparable to that of Denmark, or the Maputo Special Reserve, located 100km southeast of the city of Maputo, which is home to some 350 elephants, as well as antelope, zebras, crocodiles, hippos, and wide range of bird species.

Many of the national parks and reserves were established due to the government's conservation efforts. Mozambicans live around and even some of these designated areas, and many of them rely on the country's strong mineral wealth for livelihood. However, such activities work to the detriment of maintaining and conserving the country's natural and ecological wealth. In response, the government has initiated the MozBio Project, which aims to improve poverty conditions for the residents in and around conservation areas through effective management of the areas and by promoting tourism. Refocusing local economies to conservation efforts and tourism will, the government hopes, help raise out of poverty some of the most seriously affected areas. The project will put a special emphasis on marine conservation areas, as these shorelines with white sand, turquoise waters, and amazing coral reefs are considered to hold the most wealth in terms of attracting tourists.

The island of Mozambique, a 3km island in the northern Nampula Province in the Mozambique Channel, is one of the most popular destinations for leisure tourists. A highway connects the island with the mainland and is less than 10km from the Lumbo airport. The relatively small island, close to 3km long and between 200 and 500m wide, includes the Palace and Chapel of São Paulo, constructed in 1610 as a Jesuit college and later turned into the governor's residence. Also, on the island are the Fort São Sebastiao, the oldest intact fort in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Beluarte, estimated to be the oldest European building below the equator, built in 1588 and 1522, respectively. With several mosques and a Hindu temple, the entire island is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The north coast of the country is also home to the Quirimbas Archipelago, which consists of about 32 islands and is a popular tourism destination, especially for scuba divers. While the warm waters contain vibrant coral throughout the coast, the waters are home to a score of mega-fauna, such as manta rays and whale sharks that are present year round, as well as humpback whales that traverse the Mozambique Channel on their way to and from the Antarctic. For divers, the area contains such attractions as the Edge of Reason, which is located on Medjumbe Island and hosts a more than 850m drop-off and several caverns and overhangs, and the Gap, located off the island of Pemba and provides divers the opportunity to swim along a wall on the edge of the continental shelf inhabited by big game fish, devil rays, and gorgonian fans.

There are scores of projects the country could undertake, each of which would considerably raise incentive among travelers to come to Mozambique—easing the country's visa requirements would be one such step. Currently, only neighboring countries and Mauritius can travel to the country visa free—all other cases require the traveler to obtain a visa at a Mozambican embassy prior to arrival. The tourism sector could also benefit from an expansion of the country's flag carrier, LAM Mozambique Airlines, which doesn't fly beyond sub-Saharan Africa. The Maputo International Airport is the country's largest and has the capacity to handle 900,000 passengers per year, after a 2010 reconstruction project headed by a Chinese company that doubled the capacity. While the airport mostly services destinations in Africa, international carriers link the airport to Doha, Istanbul, and Lisbon.

Late in 2015, the government reduced the number of international airports in the country to just three, with Maputo Airport servicing the southern portion of the country, Beira Airport servicing the center, and Nacala Airport for the north. Though the move reduces the number of international points of entry, it is intended to bring economic benefits. South Africa, which is considerably larger than Mozambique and receives millions more tourists each year, only has three international airports; and Ethiopia only has one. The government also hopes the plan will turn Nacala Airport, which opened in 2014, into an international transfer and distribution hub, competing with the airports in Johannesburg, Dar es Selaam, and Addis Abba.

“Tourism is considered by the government to be one of the four priority areas for the development of the country," Hon. Silva Armando Dunduro, Minister of Culture and Tourism, recently told TBY. “Due to its broad character, tourism boosts the direct, indirect, and induced development of other economic and social sectors. Our task is to continue boosting the growth of tourism through the laws, policies, and regulations that drive the sector."

In 2015, the National Institute of Tourism (INATUR) established a 10-year strategic plan for tourism, which aims to bring the country's tourism destinations to their full potential by attracting more investment for accommodation, restoration, infrastructure, and entertainment, by reclassifying certain tourist enterprises, and by graduating more and more hospitality professionals from tourism school. To attract more high-income visitors, INATUR is prioritizing projects that will match their needs, such as luxury accommodation on both the shore line and in safari lodges, holding more events in major cities, improving beach resorts, and providing equipment and services for conferences.

The country plans to hold the largest fair in the country's tourism sector history later this year, which will showcase the touristic, artistic, and cultural potential of Mozambique.

Later in 2016, the central city of Beira will host the Ninth National Festival of Culture, which INATUR says will be one of the country's highest cultural achievements. The festival will unite the country's range of cultures and feature both traditional and modern musicians and other artists.

With the legacy of the country's civil war almost entirely faded, the country has been making all the right moves to boost its tourism sector. INATUR is both hopeful and ambitious that its plans will turn the country into a tourist destination capable of competing with the likes of South Africa. And it's not just INATUR that thinks so—the World Travel and Tourism Council recently ranked the country 14th in long-term growth related to tourism.