Even before Covid-19, tourism operators in the north of Mozambique were facing their biggest challenge in years.
For many tourists, a trip to Northern Mozambique wouldn’t be complete without a stay on both Ilha De Mozambique and Ibo. The two are often promoted and sold together by agents. But since the cyclone and ongoing civil unrest tourists are staying away from Ibo and tourism establishment have closed their doors at least until the situation improves. Ilha De Mozambique remains unaffected by recent events, but it’s unclear if Ilha has enough destination appeal without its Quirimbas partner to continue to pull the visitors or will its popularity slide too?
One possible solution is for Ilha and the surrounding area to increase their tourism offerings to compensate for the loss of the Quirimbas as a destination. Matabane near Nacala is reportedly building up its infrastructure with the proposed 260million Euro investment of Mauritian businessman Amédée Darga. This involves the construction of 1,000 hotel rooms (and that’s just the first phase). Vamos ver!
Ponta Bajone by dhow
Thankfully, Ilha’s developments are more sympathetic to the style and tempo of coastal life, and also conditioned by the need to conform to UNESCO World Heritage standards. Even so things don’t stand still. There are improved hotels, new guest houses, Airbnb and an expanded range of activities, including internationally significant whale watching opportunities. There is also more publicity: Coral Lodge is gaining additional exposure through an Airlink cross promotion, the use of influencers and other clever initiatives. While the inclusion in the Petit Fute travel guide of Ilha Blue, Jardim dos Aloes, Escondidinho and Dar Diwani guest house will attract new French and Spanish speaking markets. Then there is Ilha blue winning another African responsible tourism award against stiff competition, particularly from South Africa and Kenya, something that helps keep the destination at front of mind for both tourists and industry professionals.
Of course, it’s not only about stylish accommodation and clever promotion, there needs to be more things for visitors to do. Remember if Ilha is to take over from the Quirimbas then there will need to be at least 5 days of activities. Research shows growing demand for quality experiences provided by professional operators that can showcase local culture and maximise interaction with the natural environment. Dhow sailing with a local crew is a stand-out example, but also diving, beach BBQs, walking and bike tours, as well as more intimate experiences around food preparation, local crafts and language learning
Another opportunity for the Ilha De Mozambique region lies further South around Lunga and Ponta Bajone. This area has always been touted as the next big thing. Notable for its many deserted white sandy beaches, winding mangrove channels and stunning marine and bird life, the area rivals the Quirimbas for natural beauty and tops it for sense of adventure.
Unlike Matabane with its proposed mega project, Lunga and Ponta Bajone will ideally follow a more sensitive development pathway, tapping into the potential to become popular as a sustainable destination with glamping and Eco lodges, and local culture influencing the style and tempo of every visit. Such natural beauty and remoteness would appeal as much to honeymooners as adventure, corporate and incentive travellers.
Obviously, it will be a big challenge for Ilha de Mozambique and the surrounding region to grow enough to fill the void left by the exit of Ibo and the other Quirimbas islands from the tourism offering, even if it’s just for a few years. But the raw ingredients are all there, in fact few places in Africa can boast such a range of internationally significant natural, cultural and historical tourism assets. What’s needed is a new level of business maturity, an outward looking attitude and the confidence to start thinking like a world class tourism destination.