Can shorter work weeks encourage domestic tourism?
When international travel started to close down last year, due to COVID-19, it was pretty clear that tourism would be one of the biggest losers of the pandemic. Many months later, new mutations and slow uptake of vaccines in Malawi continue to haunt the industry. Lodges, car hire firms and conference facilities are struggling in the absence of foreign visitors and poor domestic tourism.
What local interventions can we take to reverse the tide?
Last year when global COVID-19 infections somewhat eased, some countries with proven domestic tourism plans put their marketing efforts into top gear in a bid to help struggling tourism establishments. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden went further and floated the idea of introducing 4-day working weeks to promote local travel believing it would help revive the economy.
Tie holidays to corporate social responsibility
Shorter working weeks in Malawi could be one way of encouraging more local travel and visits to farther destinations. Let me give an example. Companies could, as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts, allow employees to take a maximum number of short working weeks in a year in return for carrying out one day of philanthropic or conservation work. The employee would use a Friday morning to mentor local handicraft makers in Mulanje, Mangochi, Salima and other tourist locations in simple digital and marketing skills to help them in their social media promotion efforts. Another activity could be an employee participating in a cleanup exercise or giving a community talk on how nature and wildlife conservation has a direct benefit to that community and the country as a whole.
These employees would take their families along who would equally benefit from the engagement with the locals of the area. It would be a learning experience for both the community and the tourists. After the activity, the family would then have the rest of the weekend to enjoy their vacation.
This would also be an opportunity for local tourism properties and establishments to identify issues in their local communities that need business support, mentoring or financial assistance. At the end of the day, all the people involved will be winners!
I love this Toyota Fortuner TV advert below. It goes to show that being productive does not have to mean being tethered to a desk in an office. Most areas enjoy good internet connectivity, good enough to get the most essential work done. What would stop you from having a Zoom meeting in the middle of Nyika National Park?
Move holidays to weekends
Some employers would not want to or would not be able to let employees take days off. Totally acceptable. In that case, the Department of Tourism could lobby the government to deliberately create shorter working weeks by pushing national holidays to Fridays or Mondays. These would be holidays like Kamuzu Day, John Chilembwe Day and Mothers Day that fall in the middle of a week. Specific holidays like Independence Day or those of a global nature like Christmas and Easter would be exempt.
The whole of the second week of January could be set aside to commemorate John Chilembwe and other heroes who fought for the freedom of Malawians but set Friday as the actual holiday. Then encourage people to travel to Providence Industrial Mission (PIM) to learn and participate in activities the whole weekend. Being close to Mulanje, some travellers could make day trips to Likhubula or take a short hike up Mulanje Mountain.
The same idea could be used for Martyrs Day, allowing families to travel to Nkhata Bay to visit the memorial to victims of the 1959 massacre. They would also have the beautiful Lake Malawi beaches of Chintheche and Kande to enjoy for the rest of the weekend. For Kamuzu Day, tourists could visit Nguru ya Nawambe in Kasungu for a historical tour of Kamuzu’s life and by extension, visit Kamuzu Academy. Thereafter they head off either west to Kasungu National Park or east to Nkhotakota Game Reserve.
Having three full days would give time to families to enjoy longer holidays farther away. It would also provide much-needed revenue to local tour operators, crafts makers and tourism players. Tidziyamba Ndife!
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