The Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) held a regional workshop on tourism’s economic contribution and funding possibilities in Swakopmund on 10-11 June 2017.
One of the goals of the workshop was to discuss new models for funding tourism marketing, following a 25 percent budget cut to the board in the new financial year.
The strategic working session included key Namibian private sector tourism representatives and representatives from national tourism organisations in SADC countries.
The visiting representatives from SADC tourism organisations consistently noted that money collected by their finance ministries ostensibly for the support of tourism marketing, disappears into a “black hole” with very little appropriated for tourism in the normal budgeting process.
There was consensus about the need for tourism boards to collect their funds directly.
The workshop featured discussions about transformation of tourism boards into purely marketing agencies without the responsibilities of policing the legal aspects of tourism, or being involved in political decisions.
The NTB may amend its Act to refine its mandate not only to allow for increased revenue collection, but also to consider dropping some of its other responsibilities such as its tourism industry policing operations, by allocating these processes to the Directorate of Tourism instead.
The two-day working session was opened by the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, who urged the gathering to review innovative methods of increasing revenue for the NTB.
“There have been a lot of discussions around changing what the NTB has been since 2000, when its Act was passed. A lot of the ideas posed for NTB to gain new sources of revenues depend upon finalisation and publication of what the NTB will be going forward. We must recognise that there might be changes to NTB legislation that will handle how tourism taxes and levies are collected,” Shifeta said.
He said there is need to find new pathways to income generation that support the budget of an NTB that is primarily responsible for marketing.
The minister, however, cautioned that doing so should not be at the expense of the private sector, and that any revenue raising projects must not be a pricing discouragement to the tourism clients.
“NTB bed levies brought in N$36 million in additional revenues for NTB 2016-17, but limits are in the levy collection difficulties, competition by Air BnBs, illegal operators, wrong reporting by existing accommodation facilities and other difficulties.
“The NTB Act must be changed to allow them to receive dedicated deposits of all remittances, receive annual registration fees and allow records inspectors to check on figures reported by the industry,” Shifeta said.
Informal ideas emerging from the meeting included the feasibility of an airport arrivals tax, spread of the existing NTB bed levy to include the regulated sectors (tourism activities, safari operations, etc…), making the current once-off registration fee, an annual fee; and other changes in NTB’s Act to allow them to have more money collection scope.
Botswana Tourism’s Executive Manager, Jillian Blackbeard, said they have now expanded their participation in trade fairs to 39 from an initial five, by working with that country’s embassies abroad that have budgets for marketing the country.
“We tried having a tourism levy collected by the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS), but that money never made its way to us at the levels needed for marketing. Finally, after much work and support by our ministry and lawmakers, Botswana Tourism will now receive funds directly paid to our own accounts from an arrivals tax of 10 pula for everyone coming into the country.
“We expect 30 million Pula from this source in addition to the normal budgetary allowance which will be in force in the very short term,” Blackbeard said.
Tourism Marketing South Africa (TOMSA) and the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) CEO, Mmatšatši Ramawela, said there was a need for the larger corporate private sector to contribute to tourism in meaningful ways.
“It is the larger corporates like Coca-Cola, or telecoms companies or banks that make money from the services and products they provide to tourists that need to contribute to reflect those benefits/profits they are gaining. These corporates pay nothing to get those tourists into the country, and yet, they bank the profits they earn from those very tourists,” Ramawela said.
“Decision makers value their diamonds and mining sectors more than they value tourism. But, when those mines are empty, what will they do then? Tourism is growing while they are dying out.”
NTB CEO, Digu //Naobeb, said the conference was expected to come up with a rough draft of viable models for increased funding for tourism in Namibia.
“Our colleagues from other countries have valuable experiences to offer and we can take a look at them to see what might work for us.
“Tourist boards are required to subsidise the private sector even though we are underfunded. We need to address these issues. We must consider the issue of cost recovery for the services we provide,” he said.
Outputs from the workshop will be presented by the NTB to the public in due course.