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?

Visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation


Yesterday an update appeared on the Malawian president’s Facebook page, in which she informed her social media followers that she had participated in a ‘.. Ministerial Roundtable of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation at Victoria Falls’. The topic for discussion at the forum was ‘visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation’.

Considering that the themes of infrastructure, airports and increased cross-national trade within Africa have popped up several times in discussions and articles on this website (for example here, here and here), I think her angle on the issue is commendable, and deserves a mention.

Recently, the Sudanese Billionaire, Mo Ibrahim expressed his displeasure during his address at the 11th Nelson Mandela lecture, with the visa regimes in Africa, saying:

“..The second issue is African economic integration. Only 11% of our trade is amongst the Africans. We refuse to let our people travel from one country to another. We always need a visa. And l also say, sadly, although being Sudanese, whenever l travel in Africa l always carry a British passport, because l am welcome.

My colleague here, a Member of our Board, had huge trouble in getting a visa to be able to join me here. He was a Secretary General of the United Nations, a board member, just to get a visa here is a major trouble. But with my British passport l am welcome here through your immigration lines. Is that acceptable?..”

One can only hope that these kinds of initiatives — which clearly will have a tangible economic benefit to Africa – do eventually get implemented by the countries concerned, and do not end up onto the large pile of broken promises by political leaders past and present.

The full update on the Facebook page is as follows:

Good evening my friends

Today I attended a Ministerial Roundtable of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation at Victoria Falls, on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia where I addressed participants on the topic: ‘visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation’.

I addressed participants that our continent possesses many places of great beauty and I went on to talk about our beautiful country, Malawi, which happens to be one of the most beautiful countries for tourists attraction as we are blessed with a large freshwater lake, surrounded by white sands and full of a diversity of fish species and country boasts of wide open skies, beautiful rolling hills and mountains that offer rare experiences to climbers, bird watchers and adventure enthusiasts.

I made it clear that Malawi’s description as the ‘warm heart of Africa’ does not just refer to our inviting climate or the deep red of our sunset. It aptly describes the welcome you will receive from all Malawians as we are indeed very friendly and “warm hearted people of Africa”!

While talking about tourism I addressed participants that , tourism promises immense opportunities for growth of our economies and job creation; however millions of people continue to face unnecessary barriers to travel. These barriers include complicated and expensive visa processes; difficult and therefore expensive transport connections, lack of integrated border management systems and security threats.

For example, according to research by the United Nations WorldTourism Organisation; and World Travel and Tourism Council, facilitating visas among the G20 countries alone would create an additional five million jobs by 2015. This is a clear indication of the impact simplified and user friendly visa system can have on our economies.

It is my view that Visa Facilitation has the potential to enhance regional integration, intra-regional trade and easy movement of capital and people between countries and regions.Therefore, visa policies and procedures are among some of the most important instruments influencing tourism and investment. The development of policies and procedures for visas as well as other travel documents is closely linked to the development of tourism. Furthermore, the quality, reliability and functionality of visas have a direct correlation to number of arrivals at a destination.

In lieu of the above reasons I am calling for regional interconnectivity amongst our nations which may entail improving the current state of transport and telecommunications infrastructure and facilitating institutional improvements to optimise the efficiency and capacity of road, rail, water and air transport and the social sectors in education and health.

I believe that this in turn has high potential on enhancing economic growth; thus contributing to overall objective of poverty reduction. The link between tourism and poverty reduction is well known as one of the fundamental contributions is job creation which is part of our government’s economic recovery plan that my government is pursuing.

Thank you all for your support and prayers

May God bless you!

Good night!

Dr Joyce Banda
Republic of Malawi “