Madagascar hopes movie will boost tourism and economy
By Rhett Butler, mongabay.com
July 7, 2005
Uroplatus fimbriatus gecko
The Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar is hoping that a recently released Dreamworks’ movie will spur tourism in the country despite its lukewarm success in the American box office. The animated film has grossed a disappointing $172 million since its launch over Memorial Day weekend. For comparison, Shrek 2 generated $441,226,247 in the United States when it was released by Dreamworks in 2004.
Opening to mixed reviews, the computer-animated film tells a fish out of water story of four urbanite zoo-dwelling animals who escape from New York and experience major culture shock when they arrive in a vastly foreign and decidedly wild Madagascar. The movie features voice performances by Jada Pinkett Smith, Chris Rock, Ali G creator Sacha Baron Cohen, David Schwimmer and Ben Stiller.
The movie hasn’t exactly entralled the locals in the country for which the film is named — according the The New York Times, “Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, has exactly two movie theaters, which offer exactly two types of entertainment: locally produced martial-arts films and evangelical religious films… On Madagascar, there is no Madagascar.”
Even though Madagascar has yet to open on the island, the country hopes the film will be the second “Out of Africa,” a popular film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, that produced a boom in tourism for the country in which it was filmed, Kenya, over the five following years. It is likely that Madagascar will only see a similar increase in visitors and subsequent economic benefit from the film if enough money is spent to properly market the country while interest in the picture is still high. Luckily, for Madagascar the country, Dreamworks will likely continue the promotion of the movie well past its run in American theaters since the company is still smarting from its failure to meet DVD sales objectives for its last picture. Promotion for the Madagascar DVD release will surely be extravagant and further raise awareness on the real-life destination.
Currently, information on travel to Madagascar is difficult to come by, especially in the United States. While the island attracted 230,000 tourists in 2004, up from 160,000 the previous year, nearly two thirds of those numbers come from France, Madagascar’s former colonial ruler. The goal for the country’s nation tourist office is an annual 20 percent increase in the number of tourists, with a target figure of 684,000 in 2010. Madagascar has a lot of offer visitors but due to its remoteness, lack of infrastructure, and poverty it has largely failed to capitalize on its natural tourist attractions which include some of the best wildlife on the planet and fantastic landscapes. The island is home to such evolutionary oddities as lemurs, a group of primates endemic to the island; brilliantly colored lizards including geckos and chameleons; tenrecs, spiny hedgehog-like creatures; and the fossa, a carnivorous animal that looks like a cross between a puma and a dog but is closely related to the mongoose.
Madagascar can use all the help it can get. It is one of the world’s poorest countries with most Malagasy earning less than a dollar a day and nearly half of the country’s children under five years of age malnourished. As such, people’s day to day survival is dependent upon natural resource use. Most Malagasy never have an option to become a doctor, sports star, factory worker, or secretary; they must live off the land that surrounds them making use of whatever resources they can find. Their poverty costs the country and the world through the loss of the island’s endemic biodiversity. Responsible, respectful, and tolerant tourists can play a crucial role in saving Madagascar’s wildlife and wildlands. This film can play an important part in attracting some of these visitors.
This article used information from The New York Times, WildMadagascar.org, and Mongabay.com