Monday, 13 October 2014 22:00

Madagascar embarks on tourism marketing drive

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After years of political instability, the African island nation of Madagascar plans to capitalise on its natural attractions and beach holiday appeal to draw one million visitors by 2020. The country’s re-branding strategy hinges on attracting large international investors, strongly marketing the destination and implementing programmes aimed at attracting high-end travellers.

While the charms of natural beauty, Baobabs, an extensive coastline and unusual indigenous wildlife species may speak for themselves, the political upheaval that followed the 2009 coup has tarnished the reputation of a country that boasted 375 000 tourist arrivals in 2008. These were its highest recorded visitor levels to date, according to local tour operator Asisten Travel. But with the turmoil came declining figures which have yet to fully recover, despite the reestablishment of democracy in the world’s fourth-largest island. Just 198 816 tourists visited Madagascar in 2013 and 255 942 in 2012, according to newspaper ‘Les Nouvelles’.

 

However, with the inauguration of Hery Rajaonarimampianina as the new democratic president in early 2014 and readmission to the African Union, this year’s visitor figures are on the rise with “inbound tourism … getting closer to the record numbers registered in 2008 before the 2009 coup”, according to a report published by research company Euromonitor in May.

Now, by focusing on what sets it apart as a holiday destination and by addressing the challenges that resulted post-2009, Madagascar is hoping to attract a wider range of investors and, by extension, a wider range of tourists. Plans to boost the sector include a US$10-million investment in safe establishments that are conducive to business development, according to tourism news portal ‘Tourism Review’. “The government has [made an offer to] major international hotel chains to make investments particularly intended to attract high-end tourism,” reported the publication. Concessions for investors in 21 national parks are also part of the strategy.

Despite its fluctuations, tourism has already had a positive impact on Madagascar’s economy. “It’s still a very poor country, but there is a far bigger middle class now and I think it’s largely because of tourism,” said Hilary Bradt, a British guidebook publisher and tour operator when interviewed by ‘The New York Times’.

With unspoilt beaches and unique animal life – 92% of its mammals exist nowhere else on Earth according to the World Wildlife Fund – Madagascar is ideal for eco-tourism and also has a distinct heritage. “We will put the emphasis on cultural tourism, starting from the rural destinations, creating ‘cultural villages’ and involving [the] local population,” the publication ‘Tourism Review’ reported the country’s Tourism Minister, Ramarcel Benjamina Ramanantsoa, as saying.

By involving locals in the revamp, the ministry hopes to financially empower citizens and improve safety standards, as residents will have a vested stake in the success of tourism. There are also plans to make Madagascar a more service-oriented society with hospitality training at specialised centres. To attract a new tourist segment, the country has joined the International Surfing Association and hopes that becoming a top surfing hub will add to its investment and tourism appeal.

At the recent Paris launch of the French Tourism Trade Fair, ministers from Madagascar and Africa’s other Indian Ocean countries (Comoros, Réunion, Mauritius and Seychelles) emphasised the importance of extending efforts to attract French tourists to these regions, especially in light of the language commonalities. They also discussed the importance of dispelling misconceptions surrounding the continent, specifically around the spread of Ebola.

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