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Angola: A country with huge, untapped tourism potential

Angola, as everyone knows, is a beautiful country. With around 1,246,700 km2, Angola retains the most diverse landscapes, from Benguela‘s naturally warm water beaches to the dense and rich Maiombe forest in Cabinda or the legendary Namibe desert, the only place in the world where the special welwitschia mirabilis grows.

Welwitschia Mirabilis, photo by flickr user calips96 used under a Creative Commons license.

Despite having these postcard lanscapes, Angola is yet to flourish as a tourist destination. There is little infrastructure to properly accommodate those who want to come just to visit the country. However, it is easy to see the accelerated reconstruction everywhere, which indicates that the development in tourism is on its way. According to the Hospitality and Tourism Minister, Jorge Valentim Alicerces, “after achieving peace, Angola will become a tourist destination par excellence thanks to the country’s potential for eco-tourism, the richness of its traditional culture, beautiful warm water beaches, vast open plains, mountains that scrape the skies of Africa. Angolan's current atmosphere of security turns it into a region where foreign investors come with great enthusiasm, because they hope to find investment opportunities in construction, transport, public works, health, communication, in the hotel and tourist sectors and in several areas of service.”

Meanwhile, Angolans and foreigners enjoy the dazzling natural beauty that the country offers. Brazilian blogger Spindola [pt] writes at his amazement at visiting Huíla province:

“A Huíla é com certeza, entre as províncias que visitei, a que tem melhor estrutura. Além disso o Lubango é uma cidade linda, conhecida pelos seus moradores como a Europa de África. O frio durante o dia e principalmente à noite, dá o ar aconchegante a esse lugar. O Lubango é famoso não só pelo seu clima como também pela serra da Leba. Faltam-me palavras para descrever tamanha beleza. É com certeza dos lugares mais lindos que tive a oportunidade de conhecer. A estrada da serra visa ligar o Namibe à Huíla. Dizem que antes da estrada era necessário dar um contorno muito grande. A obra foi realizada por uma mulher, uma inglesa. Fico imaginando como deve ter sido essa aventura. Como se não bastasse a estrada que é uma beleza estonteante, no mesmo local uma cachoeira maravilhosa. O barulho das águas preenche aquele lugar como se fosse uma música. Um frio gostoso da serra dá um ar todo romântico. As nuvens que se formam no local ficam abaixo do seu olhar, parece que estamos acima do céu. Por trás das nuvens de fim de tarde, o sol projectava uma luz. Não consigo achar definição melhor para essa luz que “ a imagem de Deus”. Todo visitante ou morador de Angola deveria conhecer o Lubango. Realmente vale muito a pena o passeio”.

“Lubango, the European Africa”, photo by Spindola

“Leba Hills”, photo by Spindola

Huila is certainly, among the provinces I have visited, the one which has the best infrastructure. In addition to this, Lubango is a beautiful city, known among its residents as Africa's Europe. The daytime cold and especially the cool evenings make the place cosy. Lubango is famous not only for its weather but also because of the Leba sierra. I don't have words to describe such beauty. It is for sure one of the most beautiful places I have had the opportunity to see. The sierra's road connects Namibe to Huila. They say that before the road it was necessary to go the long way around. The work was carried out by an English woman. I wonder what this adventure must have been. As if the road's astonishing beauty wasn't enough, there is a beautiful waterfall in the place. The roar of the water fills the place like music. The nice cool mountain air gives it a romantic atmosphere. The clouds that gather there are below your eye line, it seems that we are above the sky. Behind the clouds, in the afternoon, the sun projected a light. I can't find a better definition for this light other than “the image of God.” Every visitor or resident of Angola should visit Lubango. It is really worth it.”

Travelling around this mysterious Angola full of baobabs and covered in the Crimson Acacia‘s red bloom is, indeed, wonderful, but as mentioned above, the country is not ready to host tourists. The roads are damaged by holes, and the lack of good hotels or lodgings and restaurants in small cities makes everything more complicated. Travelling to some cities sometimes becomes a headache. Peter, from the Hotel Luanda blog, described a trip through the Malange territory on the way to the awesome Kalandula falls:

“Deixamos cedo a cidade de Malange rumo às Quedas de Kalandula. O percurso fez-se em constante deslumbramento por entre buracos de estrada e muitas paragens para contemplar e gravar tantas imagens de rara e enorme beleza. O enorme capim cortado pelas águas de um rio que serpenteia pela planície e que sob ela passa várias várias vezes e pelas sanzalas junto à estrada, onde nascem mais olhares de crianças por cada carro que passa. Chegamos enfim a Kalandula, uma pequena e acolhedora povoação situada no alto de um planalto, imponente como uma rainha que do seu trono observa suas terras ao longe. Conserva ainda algumas marcas do colonialismo nas casas, igrejas e costumes da terra que tem simpatia como sinónimo. Chegamos logo depois às Quedas de Kalandula. As segundas maiores quedas de água de todo o continente africano, com cerca de 100 metros de vertiginosa altura. Vistámos também Pungo Andongo. Uma povoação escondida no seio das pedras altas que nos faz logo pensar que foram as próprias rochas que nasceram em sua volta, como uma muralha para a proteger do resto do mundo. Três ou quatro casas, uma igreja em ruínas, um posto médico e uma escola renovada…quase como uma miragem impossível…como é possível existir vida ali? Mas existe. Compreendi que ainda se pode encontrar em Angola a harmonia entre o homem e a natureza”.

Kalandula Waterfall, photo by Hotel Luanda blog

“We left the city of Malange early towards Kalandula Falls. We made the trip in constant awe between road holes and the many stops to contemplate and record many images of rare and enormous beauty. The huge grass cut through by the waters of a river that winds and passes through the open plains several times, and by various houses along the road, from where children's eyes appear to watch every car that goes by. We came at last to Kalandula, a small, friendly town situated on top of a plateau, as impressive as a queen on her throne looking upon her land in the distance. Some colonialist traits remain in the houses, churches and customs of this extremely friendly land. Soon after we arrived at the Kalandula Falls. It's the second largest waterfall in the entire African continent, with about 100 meters of dizzying heights. We could see Pung Andong too. A hidden village within the tall rocks that makes us think that the very rocks were born around it, like a wall to protect it from the rest of the world. Three or four houses, a collapsing church, a doctors surgery and a revamped school… almost like an impossible mirage… how can life exist there? But there it is. In Angola I discovered that you can still find harmony between man and nature.”

According to África Minha [Africa of Mine, pt] blog, a luxury hotel enterprise with 28 rooms, 4 executive and 4 presidential suites as well as a swimming pool was opened in the province of Malange this year. It is the first hotel of its kind in this part of the country. Malanje was “rewarded” with a luxury hotel, but other provinces will have the same privilege, with the construction of resorts, residential hotels and other similar investments.

Because it is an untapped field, tourism in Angola attracts the attention of foreign businessmen, including Portuguese investors. But the well publicised difficulties in obtaining visas makes these building projects a difficult task to complete. Feliciano J. R. Cangue [pt] interestingly analyses the situation on his blog:

“Em todo o mundo o turismo é um sector da economia que se devidamente explorado, pode gerar novos postos de trabalho e assumir uma grande participação na renda nacional. O nosso país que hoje possui cerca de 80% da sua mão de obra activa na informalidade, pode atrair esse fluxo para o país. Para tal, o mercado turístico precisa desenvolver projectos que o impulsionem e potencializem o mercado turístico. Isso pode resultar em desenvolvimento económico e postos de trabalho. O turismo em muitas situações, ajuda a fixar o homem no campo, principalmente no momento em que presenciamos o êxodo rural. No nosso caso específico, sempre que ouço falar de turismo, fala-se normalmente da construção de hotéis. É verdade que a situação é crítica nessa área devido à guerra que o país passou. Precisamos investir de forma intensa na divulgação e fidelização do cliente. Isso envolve um bom atendimento ao turista. Para tal, pessoas que moram em locais turísticos precisam ser treinadas para desenvolvam espírito hospitaleiro recebendo os turistas com o máximo de boa vontade, presteza e simpatia e porque não aprender os principais termos que lhes permitam estabelecer a comunicação com turistas. Além disso, precisam preservar (livrar do mal) e conservar (manter) os locais turísticos como: as nossas florestas tropicais, formações rochosas extraordinárias, rios, lagos, quedas de água, parques nacionais, montanhas, grutas, praias, etc. Os profissionais da área precisam agir de uma forma inovadora, não deixando que apenas o ministro do turismo se debata sozinho. O sector precisa oferecer a prestação de serviços e atendimento de alta qualidade aos turistas. As embaixadas e consulados precisam também facilitar a concessão de vistos de turista. Precisamos sair do amadorismo. Temos tudo para sermos o maior paraíso turístico africano”.

“Everywhere in the world, tourism is a sector of the economy which, if properly exploited, can generate new jobs and play a large stake in the national income. Our country, which today has about 80% of its labor force in the informal economy, could also attract this. To this end, the market needs to develop projects that promote and increase the tourist market. This may result in economic development and jobs. In many cases, tourism helps people to settle in the countryside, particularly in these times when we are witnessing rural exodus. In our particular case, every time I hear mention of tourism, it is usually about the construction of hotels. It is true that the situation in this area is critical because of the war that the country has been through. We need to invest intensely in promotion and customer loyalty. This involves good services for tourists. To do this, people who live in tourist sites must be trained to develop a friendly spirit welcoming tourists with great goodwill, kindliness and promptness and, why not, learning the key phrases that will enable them to communicate with tourists. Moreover, they need to preserve (get rid of evil) and keep (maintain) our natural sights such as tropical forests, extraordinary rock formations, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, national parks, mountains, caves, beaches, etc… The professionals in the area need to act in an innovative way, not leaving the minister of tourism to struggle alone. The sector needs to offer high quality services to tourists. Embassies and consulates need also to facilitate the issuing of visas for tourists. We need to get rid of amateurism. We have everything needed to be the largest African tourist paradise.”

Angolan tourism has been growing positively, as shown by results achieved and statistical data. Angola Xyami [pt] brings together the stats for the last decade's development, and hopes that “tourism in Angola reaches new prospects and exceeds the 87,400 tourists received in 2007″:

O ano de 1999 registou um movimento de 45,5 mil turistas, em 2000 de 50,7 mil e em 2001 de 67,4 mil. Em termos relativos, esta evolução revela um aumento de 11,42% entre 1999 e 2000 e 32,9% de 2000 a 2001, mas entre 2002 e 2006, o movimento chegou a mais de 55 por cento. Do ponto de vista das principais regiões emissoras de turistas para Angola, a Europa continua a ser a maior com um total de 30,8 mil turistas em 2000, representando 61% do total geral das chegadas às fronteiras. Em 2001, passou para 38,2 mil turistas, representando 76,4%, dados que sofreram alteração de mais 10% até Setembro de 2007.

1999 saw the movement of 45,500 tourists, in 2000 there were 50,700 and in 2001, 67,400 visitors. In relative terms, this trend shows an increase of 11.42% between 1999 and 2000 and 32.9% from 2000 to 2001, but between 2002 and 2006 the increase reached over 55%. In terms of the major regions tourists come from to Angola, Europe remains the largest with a total of 30,800 tourists in 2000, representing 61% of the total arrivals at the borders. In 2001, it rose to 38,200 tourists, representing 76.4%, a number that saw a further 10% increase by September 2007.

For more information on tourism in Angola, please visit the Embassy of the Republic of Angola in Washington, DC website. For photos, a great blog to visit is Angola em Fotos [Angola in Photos, pt].

Originally written in Portuguese, translation by Paula Góes

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