TBY talks to Hermenegildo Neves, Director General of Inatur, on the need for better promotion and development in the local tourism sector.
THE BUSINESS YEAR What have been some of Inatur’s landmark achievements as it approaches its fourth anniversary?
HERMENEGILDO NEVES We’ve been in the industry for a long time, albeit under different names. Our biggest achievement is having exposed Mozambique to the international market as a credible tourism investment destination. However, Inatur can’t take all of the credit for that as merit has to be given to the whole private sector, since it is marketing the country. Inatur is the official promoter, and its goal is to facilitate the entry of tourists and investors to the country. It also helps small Mozambican tour operators enter the market. At Inatur, we want to give pride and ownership to the Mozambican people. The tourism industry was historically run by the Portuguese and South Africans, but we are encouraging Mozambicans to take a role in the sector. We have been trying our best to make tourism an important industry for the economy.
How has Inatur’s portfolio increased over the past few years?
Inatur was created mainly to market Mozambique as a tourist destination. However, over the years there was a need to incorporate more roles into Inatur, thus the change of name. Energy and mineral resources are very important for economic growth, but one should bear in mind that natural resources will finish one day, while tourism is a sustainable industry that will always be there. I believe that tourism and mineral resource development will grow together hand in hand.
Which international markets have the most potential for companies coming to invest as well as incoming tourists?
We see a high number of visitors coming from neighboring countries to visit friends and relatives, as well as Portugal due to cultural and historical ties. Lately, we have seen an increased number of inbound tourists coming from Western Europe as well as the BRIC nations. The main tools we use to penetrate these markets are participating in travel shows, organizing road shows for B2B meetings, producing marketing material, as well as going to conferences. These have been the main tools. We also use our embassies as a vehicle to distribute information. Additionally, Inatur works with public relations companies that are contracted to work in China and Germany. An official from the Ministry of Tourism has just been dispatched to Brazil, and one will be dispatched to China in the next six months. We also have a tourism official at our embassy in London. Arrival numbers have been increasing, even in years when Europe has been hit by recession. Global arrival numbers have been up due in part to marketing efforts, but as well as the stability that we enjoy. The natural beauty of the country is also an asset.
Have you seen an increased investor appetite for tourism since the discovery of coal and gas?
We have noticed a 50% jump in demand since the discovery. We have developed a project to capitalize on the investments in the areas closest to the coal and gas, as there is an inherent lack of infrastructure in those regions. We have been in contact with various international hotel chains to discuss investments in these areas, although there are also hotels that go straight to regional governors to make deals.
How are you working with private investors to establish high-end tourism?
It has been the policy of the country to target people with large disposable incomes that arrive in smaller numbers. In the north, there are several small lodges attracting celebrities from Europe and the US looking to escape the limelight. In addition, there is a new trend of travellers wishing to combine bush and beach tourism. That will be the future of this country.
What initiatives have you taken to promote sustainable, eco-friendly projects?
As an institution like this, we promote investment opportunities to investors for them to either go it alone or to partner with others. In our experience, for ecotourism projects, investors usually partner with local communities, and that is very good. For example, locals can see an elephant as a source of food, whereas the partnership can teach them that the elephant can be an attraction that brings income and, in turn, reduces poaching.
How are you working with USAID? What are your main priorities?
A project was initiated by USAID in 2006. In the beginning, it was to provide a backbone for us to develop our tourism sector. It comprised of three phases. First, it helped us to identify the potential areas for investment and set out a development plan for infrastructure. Second, it created a master plan for our tourism sector, which is ongoing. Finally, it began attracting investors. It has actually been a lengthy exercise. We have declared seven sites as “tourist interest zones” for integrated development resorts comprising of hotels, airstrips, malls, restaurants, casinos, and golf courses as well as other tourist attractions. We are trying to diversify as much as possible so more people can be involved in each project, which also alleviates risk.
What have the main challenges been?
Lately, everyone has been talking about Mozambique due to the resource boom; however, there is a lack of infrastructure in the country. You can have pristine beaches and crystal clear waters, but you need infrastructure. We are not only attracting investors to build hotels, but also attracting companies to invest in infrastructure that the government is not able to provide.
How do you facilitate the training of human capital?
Inatur is a small entity. In a huge country, we can’t be everywhere that we are needed. We partner with the private sector to coordinate training. In addition, we have been dealing with international donor organizations, which fund our training initiatives, as well as partnering with local universities and several public hotel schools, one of which is under our supervision. Mozambique has only been independent for 37 years. All of the foreigners managing the tourism industry left the country. With more and more hotels opening, there is a large human resource gap. In many central Mozambican areas, there are Zimbabweans working in the tourist industry as they are trained in hospitality and speak English. We are all doing our best and in the very near future we will be able to mitigate that gap by getting more Mozambicans into the industry.
What are your targets looking forward to the next few years?
I would be happy seeing 4 million to 5 million visitors per year being given top-quality service. I would also be happy to see a “Maldives” or “Mauritius” in Mozambique, with people drawn from all over the world. We always aim for the best; all of our efforts are to promote Mozambique to the outside world through our donors, corporations, and embassies. I would also be happy to see repeat tourists, as well as locals enjoying their own country. As much as it is important to attract foreign tourists, it is equally paramount to have Mozambicans be able to go to four- or five-star hotels in their own country. For now, a country like Mozambique does have other priorities, but I believe we are on the right track.
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© The Business Year - October 2012