The accommodation services sector is a vital underpinning of the competitiveness of destinations in especially emerging tourism regions of the global economy. Within the environment of Africa building the competitiveness of countries as tourism destinations is inseparable from the challenge of establishing a network of different forms of accommodation at competitive prices and internationally acceptable quality standards. This paper uses a longitudinal approach to analyse the development of the accommodation services sector in one African country - Malawi - which is scaling up its tourism industry. Using historical evidence the objective is to examine the unfolding evolution of accommodation services as a factor in enhancing tourism destination competitiveness. The chequered pathway followed in Malawi to building the country’s network of hotels and small-scale accommodation establishments is traced from the colonial period to post-independence developments. It is argued that in understanding the historical evolution of accommodation services policy re-orientations have been significant drivers of change.