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Tourism, reviving the romance

By Charles Mangwiro in Maputo
Posted on Monday, 23 March 2009 01:41

Thanks mainly to its remarkable coastline and protected wildlife,

tourism has a highly promising future as a major contributor ?to the

Mozambican economy.

The revival of the old colonial-style holiday resort on Santa Carolina Island – where Bob Dylan reputedly wrote his song ‘Mozambique’ after the country won its independence in 1975 – is just one of a string of major projects to put the country back on the international travel map. With a view to overcoming the country’s reputation for slow bureaucracy, the government has its sights set on approving new tourism projects worth $2bn in 2009 so that it can eventually attract over 10m tourists a year.

The $50m luxury Santa Carolina project – located in the Bazaruto archipelago, 40km off the coast of the southern province of Inhambane – is being led by South African-based Rani Resorts Group, which aims to be Mozambique’s biggest tourist-sector investor. It will build the complex in the architectural style of the 1950s and 1960s. Rani Resorts was founded by Saudi businessman Sheikh Adel Aujan, who already owns a chain of leading hotels in Mozambique.

Teaming up with a British group, Echo Delta Holdings, Rani Resorts is currently designing the hotel on Santa Carolina, which will have 50 rooms, plus restaurants, bars and diving and fishing facilities. The island is part of the Bazaruto National Park, which was designed to protect endangered species. Its population of 250 dugongs (a relative of the manatee) is the largest counted on the entire East African coast, and visitors to the crystalline waters of the archipelago can also see at least two species of dolphin and three species of whale, while five species of turtle nest on its shores.

Tourism minister Fernando Sumbana Junior told The Africa Report that the country’s tourism sector is one of Africa’s emerging industries and the investment plan is set to strengthen the market by enabling the development of four new world-class tourist attractions. “We have signed a $3.1bn agreement with the International Finance Cooperation to finance four anchor projects along the coastline that would create 30,000 jobs,” he said.

Two of the locations will play host to major new resorts, and the other two will accommodate smaller eco-tourism projects. “This project is a great opportunity for large-scale tourism investments in one of Africa’s most beautiful and unique destinations,” Sumbana added. “Mozambique’s resource base for tourism is exceptionally strong, and now is the time to transform this potential into opportunities by securing quality investments.”?

Developers are now being sought that have a track record for working in emerging markets and who subscribe to sustainable operating policies. “We have selected four areas, in Nampula, Zambezia, Inhambane and Maputo for the project implementation to the tune over $1.2bn per site; this project is a good opportunity for large-scale investment in one of the most beautiful parts of Africa,” said the minister. “We are trying to motivate development by defining areas where we will invite investors to go and invest; in exchange, we’ll reduce any kind red tape for anyone willing to do that. When they [investors] come, they’ll find the area ready for investments and there will be a dedicated team to facilitate procedures.”?

The government says it wants to transform the country into a world-class tourist destination ahead of the 2010 World Cup Football finals in South Africa. It is counting on a $300m improvement of its airports, which will begin receiving chartered flights in 2009. The country wants to attract many of the anticipated 600,000 soccer fans to its shores as well.

Sumbana urged the private sector to be more imaginative and creative so as to fully exploit the opportunities available in areas like tourism, which is attracting increasing volumes of investment and has become a major contributor to the balance of payments.

Moving the goalposts

Sumbana said 2008 tourism revenues reached $180m, up from $163m in 2007, and the target this year is $190m. “We see this project as a platform to help develop and preserve protected areas, provide international visibility for Mozambique and be a driver of the tourism economy”, he said. “We are also eying the upcoming 2010 World Cup event in South Africa, and therefore new projects will provide over 70,000 new beds. The projects would be implemented during a five-year running period, putting up new hotels and golf courses, including energy supplies and access roads”.

A new government project, known as ‘Marca Moçambique’, or Brand Mozambique, was launched in February. It aims to promote the country’s tourist potential nationwide and abroad. A Maputo gala attended by 650 people brought together representatives of tour operators and African officials from the tourism sector with a view to showing the world that Mozambique is a safe place to invest. The tourism ministers of Kenya, São Tomé e Principe, South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho took part.

President Armando Guebuza told a recent meeting on tourism investment in Maputo that he believed the investments being made in preparation for the World Cup will create opportunities for future events and will create a legacy so that tourists will continue to flow to Mozambique long after the games are over. “We must adopt strategic measures that facilitate the promotion of tourism, that encourage industry and trade and the establishment of infrastructures, and attract investment to various social and economic areas,” he added.

One of those measures, he announced, was the liberalisation of Mozambican air space, to allow more companies to fly direct to Mozambique. Currently the only scheduled intercontinental flight to Maputo is from Lisbon, operated by the Portuguese airline TAP. Tourists “will be looking for leisure, and various services and products that we should be prepared to supply,” said Guebuza.

The country´s 2,500km coastline is dotted with pristine beaches and spectacular island paradises a few kilometres from the shore. On the mainland, the country has rich fauna and flora, in some of the largest wildlife reserves in Africa. The landmark Niassa Game Reserve on the Tanzania-Mozamique border, at more than 40,000km², is twice as big as South Africa’s Kruger Park, yet only receives a fraction of the visitors. The lesson that Mozambique has learned is that it is not so much what you have, but what you do with it.

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