BLANTYRE - Malawi has instituted new visa fees that tourism operators say are just a further blow to the country's already struggling tourism industry.
Malawi introduced the $75 visa fee from October 1 in a bid to boost government revenue. The new measure applies to citizens of all countries that require Malawians to pay visa fees.
“But also there is a security matter in it. You cannot have people entering [the country] anyhow. There must be control at the entry points into the country and one of them is this one that is being introduced,” Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Jean Kalirani.
Authorities held a carnival Saturday to showcase the country's tourist attractions, including traditional music and dance. Destinations include national parks, game reserves, mountains and Lake Malawi - Africa’s third-largest freshwater lake.
But Malawi has been struggling to woo foreign travelers.
A recent World Economic Forum report on travel and tourism cites Malawi's air transport sector as among the worst in the world.
The report also says that in 2013, Malawi earned about $34,000 from international tourists. Neighboring Zambia earned $155, 000 and Zimbabwe, $851,000.
Rosebill Satha-Sambo is the Executive Director for Malawi Tourism Council. She said the new visa fee would't help matters.
“When you have got Zambia and Zimbabwe doing a Univisa, paying $25 in each country, then you have got Tanzania at $30 and Malawi $75, we are not being competitive,” said Satha-Sambo.
She said Malawi was not yet a standalone destination. Free entry drew visitors already in neighboring countries. “People usually come to Malawi and Zambia so when you are looking at visa fee cost alone, it’s a big detriment as well to the tourism growth.”
But government tourism authorities said they were working to promote domestic tourism.
On the international level, the Department of Tourism said it has boosted advertising and publicity, citing recent features in major travel magazines like National Geographic and South African Airways inflight magazine Sawubona.