With the launch by the Ministry of Tourism of the third edition of the "Boas Vindas Program" campaign launched on December 10th 2008, an incentive was added in the opening up of space for reflections on a subject that has been gaining greater importance in Mozambique in the development of tourism. Evidently the very same programme "Boas Vindas" bears testimony to that fact. I refer here to hospitality. To begin with let me relate a story about how I became aware of this reality.
In September 2008 I was privileged to be involved in a study conducted by SNV in partnership with the Gorongosa National Park. After 23 days of work and interaction with local communities in the Gorongosa Mountains I found myself thinking: "there is still a long way in the development of tourism in this region. However, the hospitality, the kindness and sympathy of these people are worth more than 10 years of international development aid".
It was from my first own experience in Gorongosa, since I was able to meet and interact with people from different provinces, that I came to appreciate the value of this social and human capital for Mozambique. Being the first reflections on the subject of hospitality, I believe it is important to offer some conceptual framework to the issue. In that sense, one could begin by asking the question: What, after all, is hospitality?
Simply with the view to locating ourselves and without attempting to be neither exhaustive or being driven by reductionism, it is possible to understand hospitality at least from two points of view.
First, as a professional occupation, an across the board competence expected of all professionals who work in the services provision industry, particularly those who work in the tourism industry.
On the other hand, we can try to understand hospitality as a body of knowledge, values, beliefs, attitudes and abilities which characterise people's way of being, the way they welcome visitors (tourists) and relate to one another, being, therefore, an integral element of the national culture.
In this particular case and because it is a theme that is more involving, I would prefer to begin any reflection about hospitality starting from the second point of view, that is hospitality as seen as a culture or a "peculiar way of welcoming". Since my arrival in this country at the invitation of SNV (Netherlands Development Organization), I have been able to understand that Mozambique, although being the result of an amalgamation of different people, with a diversity of ethnic groups (just as in Brazil), projects itself today as a unified country with a strong cultural identity and which shares certain features which make it possible to understand in these people a unique way of being and of welcoming visitors. This is what could offer a basis for a more comprehensive reflection about what we might call "the Mozambican way of being and welcoming".
But can we affirm that there is a Mozambican culture of hospitality? In fact, are there any intrinsic characteristics of this way of being that differentiate them from other people in the region and in the world? Could the Mozambican hospitality contribute to the country's social, economic and tourist development?
If this is possible, other questions arise: how to achieve that it in an ethical and inclusive manner? How to value the Mozambican way of being and welcoming without losing the authenticity or venturing into the merits of cultural mercantilism?
These are some of the initial reflections or questioning that I propose and believe will find space within the context of policies in education, economic development and tourism, as well as in Social Sciences research here in Mozambique.
These and other questions could serve as references in initiating a dialogue aimed at recognising and value this "intangible" asset this that we could recognized as a " second skin of mozambicans" . We who are involved with tourism economy cannot ignore the fact that it is the local population the main protagonist in tourism, and in a way responsible for making tourists feel welcome. It would also be the people the big "glue" that gives sense to tourism as a phenomenon and an activity that sustains itself in the bases of knowledge and cultural exchanges. Thus, people's hospitality is an important asset for a country that sees in tourism a valuable instrument for the diversification of its economic base.
It is also important to remember that hospitality itself represents a popular asset that does not depend on international cooperation or large-scale technological investments in order to develop. Hospitality is there and so evidently in the honest look, smile and kindness of the Mozambican people. It also manifests itself more profoundly and in more elaborate forms in the traditional dances, the rhythms, the food and the vast artistic production.
As a first provocation for now I only wanted to raise our consciences about the importance of this second Mozambican skin, hospitality, in order to find consistent and effective ways to value it in order to let this important asset make a strong print in Mozambique's experience and brand as a tourism destination.
Finally, we can still associate hospitality with an element of popular culture, which can contribute to the consolidation of a positive social environment, which promotes Mozambican pride and self-esteem, what most people considered and I definitely agree will be the true engine for the sustainable development of any country. Federico Vignati PhD in Applied Economics (Tourism) SNV-Mozambique Senior Economic Development Advisor (Tourism) Author of the book "Gestão de Destinos Turísticos" (Management of Tourism Destinations.