Inhambane tourism in steep decline

There has been a sharp decline in tourism in the southern Mozambican province of Inhambane, and the situation threatens to deteriorate still further with the proposal to close Vilankulo airport to international traffic, reports the daily newspaper “O Pais”.

Tourism was considered a mainstay of the Inhambane economy, due to vast expanses of unspoiled beaches, and the pristine waters and marine fauna of the Bazaruto National Park. But the economic crisis engulfing Mozambique is pushing tourist establishments out of business. In addition, even though most of Inhambane is untouched by the insurrection waged by the opposition party Renamo, the military tensions contribute to keeping foreign tourists away.

According to the Inhambane Provincial Tourism Association, 15 tourism establishments closed in the first half of this year, with 100 workers made redundant.

Up until 2014, Inhambane tourism was recording an average annual investment in tourism of about US$40 million, but in 2015 the figure fell to US$10 million, and this year, instead of investment, the sector is shrinking.

Tourism operators fear that a fatal blow to the business could be given by the decision to close the airports in Inhambane city and in Vilankulo to international traffic.

It is through Vilankulo airport that many foreign tourists reach the Bazaruto archipelago, and resorts in Vilankulo and Inhassoro districts. The importance of this airport used to be recognized by the government which invested US$10 million in modernizing the airport, tripling its capacity so that it can now handle more than 200,000 passengers a year. Currently an average of two international flights a day land at Vilankulo.

If, for example, direct flights between Johannesburg and Vilankulo cease to exist, foreign tourists will either have to change planes in Maputo, or travel by road. The Inhambane Tourism Association fears that they will not do so and that tourist arrivals in Vilankulo, Inhassoro and Bazaruto will slump.

This would be disastrous for thousands of people in these parts of the province who depend on tourism for a living. The tourism operators are now lobbying the government to reverse the decision to close the airport.

Inhambane hotels have a total of 8,134 rooms and 16,231 beds, which is 37.5 per cent of the national accommodation capacity. Tourism directly employs 7,346 people in the province, which is 35.3 per cent of all formal sector employment in Inhambane.