Opinion tourism

Promoting Malawi’s Tourism sector: Lessons from São Miguel

A hiking path on São Miguel

São Miguel is an island located in the North Atlantic Ocean about 1,500km off the coast of Lisbon and 3,900km from the east coast of North America. It is one of nine islands and the largest of Portugal’s autonomous Azores Archipelago.

As an island that covers 760 km2 (290 sq mi) and has around 140,000 inhabitants, São Miguel (which earned the nickname ‘Ilha Verde’ [Green Island]) is a major attraction that draws visitors from around the world who come to see its beautiful nature, volcanic scenery, hot springs, characterful towns and rich marine life, among other attractions.

The island cultivates food staples and crops such as tea, pineapple, and tobacco and has established fishing and diary industries. In the past, Sao Miguel was known for exporting oranges to Europe (mainly to Great Britain).

A pineapple plantation in São Miguel

Tourists can explore Graça Market, visit the blue china shop, take walks around the streets of Carvalho Araújo, Pedro Homem and D’Água (in Ponta Delgada’s historical centre), visit the Arquipélago Modern Arts Centre, go bike riding, or go shopping in Louvre Michaelense – São Miguel’s most beautiful store. If water activity is your thing, you can go kayaking, canoeing, bathe in hot springs, whale spotting (several deep-sea species swim next to the coastline, including sperm whales, several species of beaked whales and dolphins) or even go swimming with dolphins.

A selection of hotel rates in São Miguel (October 2020 via Google)

Most hotels are clean and affordable, and there’s something to suit every budget. Travellers on Trip Advisor report of good standards, lovely food and plenty of activities to suit different tastes.

Two lakes at Sete Cidades

The twin blue and green lakes that fill the base of the Sete Cidades caldera in the west of São Miguel are another beautiful attraction that draws thousands of tourists each year. You can hike around the lakes themselves or do the 12km loop around the caldera rim.

Why does it matter? Why should we care?

Last week the Vice President of Malawi met officials from Kasungu, Salima, Nkhotakota and Mchinji. Chilima said his reforms were aimed at repositioning and preparing the councils of these owns to effectively and efficiently execute service delivery to the people of Malawi.

“It is the goal of the administration to establish secondary cities that would have village industries, processing plants, and organised marets, a conceptthat his Excellency has tasked the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development and Public Sector Reforms and the Ministry of Local Government to implement with urgency” the Vice President said.

He said the councils needed to identify areas that will drive their financial sustainabilityand improve service delivery with the aim of improving the livelihoods of Malawians. This sounds like a call for specialisation. I.e. what can our districts do, and encourage for there to be increased economic activity, and for us to be self-sufficient?

Chilima said: “I have emphasized to specific councils to leverage tourism. For example, Nkhotakota has seven lakes and a game reserve which if promoted would create opportunities for expansion into water transport and sustainable fishing”

Since it is the case that when commentators highlight countries like Rwanda, or Botswana as countries which Malawi should aspire to follow; or when the developmental trajectory of a city such as Dubai is brought up, it seems to some like the comparison is quite a large leap- and the criticism is along the lines of you’re comparing apples with oranges, then surely considering what a small island has done (or continues to do) – to encourage tourism (never mind other industries) has got to be a much fairer comparison?

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