Malawi is waiving visa requirements for selected countries in a bid to boost its tourism industry, which was badly affected by COVID-19. Government statistics show that during the pandemic, international tourist arrivals to Malawi plunged by 80 percent.
In a statement, the Ministry of Tourism says the arrangement will be applied to tourists from 16 countries.
Those include the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany.
Simon Mbvundula, spokesperson for the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife in Malawi, said the action is based on research that found the country was losing tourist business to other African countries because of its high visa fees.
“We are talking of a situation where we are competing for the same market,” said Mbvundula. “And we thought for potential tourists not to come to Malawi on the basis of visa fees, we thought that the benefits will definitely out-weigh the cost we might incur from the removal of the visa.”
Currently, tourists coming to Malawi are required to pay $50 per single entry, while a multiple entry visa for six months costs $150. A multiple entry visa for 12 months is $250.
Malawi instituted visa fees in 2015 to all the countries that required Malawians to pay visa fees.
However, government statistics show that during the COVID-19 pandemic, international tourist arrivals to Malawi plunged by 80 percent.
Temwa Kanjadza, who heads sales and marketing for Sunbird Hotels and Resorts, welcomes the arrangement of waiving visa fees for the selected countries.
“These are high spenders so in terms of the margin on the rates that we sell, it’s a plus already, and maybe for the forex of the country, it’s a plus already. And we believe that it will do us good as destination for Malawi and as a hospitality provider.”
The executive director of the Tourism Council of Malawi, Innocent Kaliati, also applauds the move, noting that neighboring Zambia waived visa fees for selected countries a few months ago.
Kaliati said Malawi could have gone a step further by fixing problems with the electronic visa system that the government uses.
“Because we have been receiving complaints and we have seen through social media tourists blatantly writing that they prefer Zambia than Malawi because of the visa system and not visa costs,” said Kaliati. “The system takes too long to accept certain uploads. It also used to take a long time to accept payments. It is asking for so much information that may no longer be necessary.”
Malawi’s Department of Immigration adopted the international e-visa system in 2019 in hopes of easing the time-consuming process associated with the acquisition of travel documents.
Pasqually Zulu, national spokesperson for the Immigration Department in Malawi, said the department is taking measures to rectify the problem of the e-visa system.
“I should admit here that maybe it would take time because our online portal was being managed by a certain company but negotiations are at an advanced stage that the portal should be fully managed by the department.”
Meanwhile, Malawi’s government says it plans to implement the visa-free waiver arrangement starting in January.