Tourism figures up despite challenges

Close to 1.4 million tourists visited Namibia last year, a 5.1 percent increase from just over 1.3 million visitors in 2014, the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, announced Wednesday at a media briefing attended by some of the industry’s heavyweights.
Of the 1.38 million tourist arrivals in Namibia last year, close to 1.1 million tourists or 76.6 percent of all foreign arrivals were from the SADC region.
About 447,000 entered from Angola, 351,864 from South Africa and 147,754 came from Zambia.
An additional 70,940 came from Zimbabwe and 45,049 from Botswana.
While a portion of the arrivals from SADC nations are leisure tourists, the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) said the leisure and business tourism arrivals especially from overseas tends to be more indicative of the potential for increased income generation by the tourism sector. 
The total overseas tourist arrivals from North America, Asia and Europe of 325,128 in 2015, demonstrates an average 3.1 percent year-on-year increase from that higher-spending segment of the market.
Arrivals from North America significantly increased by 12.4 percent from 2014, while arrivals from China only slightly decreased 0.7 percent in the same period.
Minister Shifeta stated that the weak South African Rand at the moment, made travel to Namibia relatively ‘cheaper’ for those coming from hard currency countries.
He also noted that the 5 percent decrease in Angolan arrivals in 2015 compared to 2014, could be a response to the economic crisis currently gripping that country
Interestingly, the last quarter of 2015 accounted for 28.3 percent of all tourists travelling to Namibia. This latter statistic is of note given that the normal peak tourism season, is traditionally July – October (though the coastal peak season includes the Christmas, Easter and school holiday months).
The statistics report also shows that December 2015 recorded the highest number of African arrivals while the overseas tourists were at their peak in August.
Quizzed why the report comes out very late in the year, Minister Shifeta attributed the late release to the manual systems at most of the country’s border posts.
“We endeavour to get these reports for a year out as early as possible and recognise that this is important.  However, the figures that make up the report come from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration which are collected at all border posts around the country. 
“Those figures and arrivals forms must be collected by MET where they are compiled and collated to generate the statistics report.  While some border posts are computerized, many are not and information must be counted by hand.
“I will venture to say that next year; we will be able to get preliminary reports out earlier in the year so that timely statistics are more readily available to the public,” the minister said.
HAN’s Gitta Paetzold expressed the need for the MET to work better with other ministries, such as Home Affairs and Immigration to ensure cohesion in policy and regulations implementation.
She said the business visa that is now required for those attending conferences or meetings in Namibia, discourages tourism resulting in the loss of potential revenues.
The minister acknowledged these regulatory conflicts and stated that a working group between ministries will be established to better coordinate these concerns.
Queries about how drought affected tourism were answered by the Minister who said that no animals as of yet, are dying due to drought.  MET maintains watering holes that they use to intervene in more serious situations.  He also said that, “we have procedures of addressing situations when animals exceed the carrying capacity of the land.  We can do game relocations or reduce the numbers of animals in a particular area (culling).  But as of now, none of these methods are indicated.”
Director of Tourism, Dr. Sem Shikongo added that, “Tour operators need to inform their guests about the drought in Namibia.  The environmental footprint of tourists is significant.  Tourists coming from places that don’t know drought can be wasteful with water usage.  Attention to drought management is not just for MET, but on the tourists as well.”