The 150,000-plus unique wildlife species in Madagascar are a major draw for visitors, with tourism set to continue increasing its contribution to the country’s GDP.
Madagascar is the fourth largest island on the planet and among the most unique places in the world regarding its habitation of people and wildlife. Situated around 400 kilometres to the east of the African continent, the country’s population is primarily related to Indonesian peoples, 4,800 kilometres away, rather than their closest neighbours.
Further complicating the picture is a noticeable French influence resulting from the colonial era. Madagascar’s incredible wildlife is a huge draw for visitors, the island home to around 150,000 unique species found nowhere else on earth.
The country is awash with national parks and nature reserves, offering awe-inspiring views and glimpses of its biodiversity. Tourists can obtain visas on arrival for a small charge, these covering periods of either 30, 60 or 90 days, with three months the maximum limit and non-extendable. Madagascar’s climate is clearly divisible into two seasons – a hot and rainy period lasting from November to April and a cooler, dry season from May through to October. Much of the island was covered in deciduous forest, but this has been steadily retreating and now predominantly lies in the east and in sporadic pockets in the west. Bamboo trees and prairie grasses dominate much of the country’s land.
THE BUSINESS END
Until the 1970s, much of Madagascar’s economy was driven by France, which supplied more than half of all imports and received almost half of the island’s exports. Agriculture forms the backbone of the nation’s economy, with strongly emerging sectors such as mining, textiles and tourism aiding its diversification. In 2016, the World Bank measured Madagascar’s GDP at approximately $9.9 billion. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that around 6.3 percent of Madagascan GDP is derived directly from travel and tourism, rising to 16.6 percent if you add in indirect contributions. In terms of employment this equates to 287,500 direct and 797,000 total jobs being supported by the sector, and the WTTC predicts investment in the industry will rise by 4.1 percent a year over the next decade.
OUT & ABOUT
Around 94 percent of tourist spending in Madagascar falls under leisure, and much of this derives from visits to Madagascar’s bountiful nature reserves and wildlife parks. Given the country’s huge variety of unique species, it is perhaps surprising to discover that the only large or dangerous animals are crocodiles, with native reptiles such as snakes deemed as harmless.
Madagascar is also home to some of the world’s most striking plant life, a must-see example being the Avenue of the Baobabs, a promenade of baobab trees lining the dirt road between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina in the Menabe region in the west.
It is one of the most raved about sights when seen at sunset. A trip to Isalo National Park is also a highly-rated activity, so much so it has received an average 4.5-star rating from 500 reviews on TripAdvisor.
Lucky explorers will spot some of Madagascar’s chameleons and 40-plus species of lemur when walking the trails, which can occupy a whole day. Also noteworthy is Madagascar’s cuisine, encompassing many diverse cultures and traditions brought in from Southeast Asian, African and Chinese populations who have moved to the island since it was inhabited by humans in from around 100 AD.
TOURISM INSIGHTS: MADAGASCAR NATIONAL TOURISM BOARD
The Madagascar National Tourism Board, or ONTM for short, was established out of the private tourism sector with the simple aim of promoting the country as a global visitor destination.
Now, having been validated as a public utility by the Tourism Ministry, the organisation’s vision remains very much the same – to develop a sustainable industry and put Madagascar on the tourism map.
Vola Raveloson is an Executive Director at ONTM, and tells us more about the tourism board’s work.
Q&A WITH VOLA RAVELOSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ONTM
Since inception, how has ONTM developed and progressed in terms of its key objectives and the messages it tries to get across?
Vola Raveloson (VR): Ever since it was set up, ONTM has always tried to highlight the comparative advantages of the Madagascar destination, i.e. nature via the wildlife and plant life, culture, nature-related sports activities and of course, the seaside and related activities. ONTM has always tried to adapt the messages it conveys to target audiences in order to attract more tourists to enjoy travelling in Madagascar. In this way ONTM is helping towards the government’s goal of 500,000 tourists by 2020.
Taking a more general industry stance, how would you evaluate the tourism sector in Madagascar now compared to its condition when ONTM began?
(VR): Ultimately, there are two indicators for measuring tourist development. The first is income from tourism: since 2003, there has been an average increase of 30 percent in absolute value in millions of SDRs. The second is the number of tourists, which was 61,674 in 2002. This reached 375,010 in 2008 but decreased to 255,460 in 2017. These falling statistics were due to different crises, but, despite these crises, the tourism sector has always been able to cope and press ahead. In addition, most major international tour operators have kept this destination in their catalogues, thus expressing their confidence in the development of the destination.
What are the core industry trends dictating ONTM ‘s investments and initiatives at present?
(VR): The Madagascar destination is one based on highlighting nature. So, it is important for ONTM to promote initiatives leading to nature conservation and sustainability in this destination. These concerns are not only understood as industry trends but also and especially as acting principles for all ONTM activities.
What is in store for Madagascar over the course of 2018 and beyond to continue the good work already commenced and to enhance its reputation as a tourism and business travel hub further in the future?
(VR): At a local level, some major events planned for the end of the year include the VEZ’TIVAL, a festival organised around various cultural and sports events aimed at publicizing the Tulear region with its habits and customs, the International Tourism Fair of Madagascar (ITM) and the Madagascar Carnival. On the international scene, the Madagascar destination will be attending the TOP RESA show in Paris on 25-28 September, via ONTM. Madagascar is also a guest of honour at the Grand Pavois/La Rochelle International Boat Show on 26 September-1 October to present its tourism and boating assets. Roadshows are also planned in France and Germany by the end of 2018. There are also airport and port upgrades. The new makeover for Nosy Be’s Fascene Airport will be inaugurated towards the end of 2018 with improved reception areas, new shopping areas and a longer runway. These new measures should enhance the attractiveness of Nosy Be, the leading tourist area in northern Madagascar and the second favourite destination for foreign tourists to the island. Construction work on the new terminal at Ivato International Airport is well underway. The new facilities are expected to be commissioned in early 2020. The new terminal will accommodate over 1.5 million passengers per year. The Tamatave Port extension works began in 2018 to triple port capacity by 2026. As Tamatave is Madagascar’s leading port and a port of call for Indian Ocean cruises, this extension is a major development opportunity for tourism in general and business tourists in particular.
What about new businesses setting up in the country?
(VR): Several ecolodges have emerged this year and should represent a significant attraction for Madagascar. The concept common to these new hotel structures is combining natural heritage conservation, an ecological approach and green tourism. For instance, the Fanamby NGO’s Friendly Camps include Black Lemur Camp, a ecolodge in the heart of the Andrafiamena Andavakoera protected area in the north, and the Simpona Ecolodge, in the heart of Makira National Park on the northeast coast of Madagascar, also serving as an operating research station open to local and international scientists wanting to study the unique Makira wildlife. Another novelty is the Mantadia lodge nestling on the fringe of the primeval forest in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, which should delight travellers wanting to spend a holiday in communion with nature, as the property offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the forest thanks to rooms fitted with wide bay windows. As part of the Indian Ocean ecotourism development programme, 10 inbound tour operators from the six member islands (Comoros, Reunion, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mayotte, Seychelles) of the Vanilla Islands Association (VIO) have been selected by the Indian Ocean Union of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UCCIOI) and the VIOI to present 30 or so combined tours dedicated to ecotourism among the various islands at the 2018 ITM. Through these tours that leave from neighbouring islands, travellers will be journeying through different regions of Madagascar such as Nosy Be, Andasibe and the East region, Majunga, etc.
Finally, looking forward, if we were to speak again in three-five years’ time, what progress and development would you hope and expect to be able to report back?
(VR): ONTM is focused on reaching a 15 percent annual increase in tourist arrivals for the next five-year term. Several steps have to be taken in order to achieve this goal. All stakeholders, both private and public, are mobilised and working together to take these steps. For ONTM, the objective is to continually improve and professionalise promotion of the destination in the tourist source markets.
GETTING TO AND AROUND
By far the most common way of getting around is by taxi-brousse, minivan-like vehicles which seat around 15 people. These will be able to get you to most places and are cheap to use, although journeys are often slow. This said, the network is well organised with drives belonging to cooperatives which have booths at stations where travellers can book tickets. One piece of sage advice is to be prepared to buy extra seats if you don’t wish to wait around – taxi-brousses only depart when full. Fares are determined by the government and based on distance, duration and the condition of the route, with much of Madagascar’s road network unpaved. Madagascar’s rail network is made of more than 1,000 kilometres of track, though it is mostly used to transport freight rather than tourists. Those travelling to and from the regions to Tana and looking to save time may opt to travel by air, though this is much more expensive, and it is advised to leave time in case of cancellations. Within cities, tuk-tuks are becoming increasingly popular as a quick means of getting from A to B. A more traditional mode of getting around is by pousse-pousse, or rickshaw, which unlike tuk-tuks base fares on distance, time of day and whether it’s raining.