As all of us are aware, tourism has grown into one of the biggest contributors to the GDP of many countries, including Namibia. Some countries, like Mauritius, base its entire economy on this sector.
Namibia has a number of pillars supporting the local economy, but tourism has over the past decade, movedinto the top three of Namibia’s economic contributors.
Tourism statistics – you cannot manage what you cannot measure:
The Fourth National Development Plan (NDP4) defined tourism as a key focus area under its crucialeconomic priorities for the period ending in 2016/2017. Tourism is a targeted sector as it is a major industry, contributing N$7.2 billion to Namibia’s GDP. Annually,over 1.1 million travellers visit Namibia for a variety of reasons, with roughly 2/3rds coming from SADC countries (Angola and South Africa are the top arrivals) and the remainder entering as leisure and business tourists from around the world, primarily from Germany, the USA, United Kingdom, Italy and France.
Namibia is among the prime destinations in Africa and isknown for adventure and ecotourism which features Namibia’s extensive wildlife and cultural diversity as well as activities like (regulated) 4x4 off road driving, dune boarding, hikes in the wild, mountain biking, ballooning and other sporting activities.
Tertiary industries, which include tourism services, have performed steadily over the NDP4 period. It has been reported by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) and various statistics from the Namibia Statistic Agency (NSA) and the National Planning Commission (NPC), that averageannual growth in the tertiary industries as a whole was projected at 5.7%, in line with average overall growthin the economy. Promised growth equates to job creation potential. Jobs from the industry represented 5.3%and 5.1% of total employment in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
According to HAN tourism occupancy statistics as compiled from its members, of the past 2 years, 2014 proved a very good year for tourism,with an average annual occupancy of all tourism facilities across the country of over 57%, the highestoccupancy since 2008, and regarded as great performance, given the increase in infrastructure in the sector.
Unfortunately, 2015 saw a slight decrease, with the year ending on an average occupancy of some 55% only,the Ebola scare, as well as amended travel regulations in South Africa seen as reason for this decline.
The good news: 2016 seems to see the trend reversed again, with the first quarter closing some 3% higher onthe same period last year, and in general the tourism industry is fairly optimistic with regards to the comingtourism high season, the currency exchange rate adding to the attractiveness of Southern Africa as traveldestination.
Extension of tourism products and investment
Over the past decade,Namibia has enjoyed a tremendous amount of capital investment in the infrastructure atall levels, from community lodges and campsites in particularly the north-western and north-eastern parts ofthe country, to middle and high-end lodge developments in remote areas of our beautiful country, while inurban areas one would only have to look at the changing Windhoek skyline to witness the tremendousinvestment in tourism infrastructure, with the Hilton Hotel the city centre soon to expand its bed offering while the prominent former Kalahari Sands Hotel has had a major refurbishment and been bought by a hugeinternational hotel group, Minor International, and now runs as Avani Hotel, Windhoek.
At the Coast, development in the tourism infrastructure seems even more prominent, with 2014/15 aloneseeing the opening of a major Conference Centre, the Dome of Swakopmund, while some 700 beds wereadded to the mix through the re-opening of the brand-new Strand Hotel, the Gondwana Delight, and the SwakopPlaza, all with different sizes and scope for conferencing and events.
Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Events (MICE) market possibilities are great, but…
In the past, tourism focused mainly on leisure travel, with wildlife and safaris as the key attractions. The local industry has since diversified into both the adventure travel and the MICE markets, the latter, withthe increasing scope of meetings, incentives, conference and events worldwide proving to be a very importantniche to focus on for Namibia.
Strong synergies and close cooperation between the Ministry of InternationalRelations and Cooperation and the tourism industry, as international conferences and events are a key element of developing foreignrelations and partnerships.
To promote Namibia as strategic and convenient venue/host for international conferences, the country needs to ensure, that it sells itself as such to professional conference organisers, (PCO’s) and global corporations.
Services required to make Namibia a profitable and successful MICE market destination are not limited to catering, accommodation and transport, but rely heavily on auxiliaryservices, such as travel access arrangements, in terms of visas, health and safety issues.
VISA requirements and the need for sensitivity and co-operation
Visa requirements and the need for sensitivity and cooperation (recent Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration decisions as a case in point) highlight the truth that: Tourism is everyone’s business.
This tourism industry slogan has once again proven to be so very true at the start of 2016, whenthe Namibian tourism industry was suddenly confronted by event organisers and PCO’s on new obstacleshindering the smooth planning of events. This comes at a time, where Namibia had just managed to positionitself as ideal MICE venue, offering exquisite and unique facilities and scenery, and yet trading in a currencythat was still affordable for Southern African event planners.
PCO’s then increasingly lookedat Namibia to stage events and meetings and the local tourism industry, including hotels, conference venuesand operators eagerly accepted such bookings, keen to fill vacancies in Namibia’s traditional low tourismseason in the first half of the year.
Then came the shock: - organisers were told, that the Namibiangovernment, through the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration, had changed the application of the rule onbusiness visas, with officers now even demanding that conference delegates and participants needed abusiness visa, to be applied for at embassies and consulates in advance, before coming to Namibia for a MICE program.
Despite attempts by the tourism industry to get clarity on the apparent new application of travel regulations,it took over 2 months and a strong media release by the NCCI to have the MHAI react by way of a counter-statement, and yet, uncertainty and confusion about the exactrequirements still remain.
This has cost Namibia dearly, not only in terms of the actual losses in business through cancelled bookings, but worse still is the loss in image of Namibia as a convenient, open and organised MICE destination.
The tourism industry again would like to respectfully urge, that decisions such as the one by the MHAI be taken based on thoroughconsultation with both the industry and other ministries to ensure that all the consequences of such action are discussed and possible mitigating programs put in place.
Our industry is strongly dependent on the travel arrangements and border crossing laws of our country and thus very keen to be involved in discussion and debate on suchregulations.
In making this major point, we are not unmindful of the key mandate by the Ministry of Home Affairs to safeguard the safety and security of our country and its people. But we believe that this can be done without creating obstaclesto easy travel to and from Namibia.
Easing visa and immigration regulations is important to tourism growth: If potential tourists find it to be a too big hassle to come toNamibia because of lengthy and time consuming visa applications, they will simply go to anotherdestination;
E-Visa: Many countries allow visitors to apply for their visa electronically. The process is uncomplicated and does not require a potential visitor to travel to a far off embassy; and
SADC access: Many visitors to Namibia do not only wish to visit Namibia, but also the neighbouring countries such as South Africa or Botswana and Zimbabwe.
A coordinated and possibly also combined emigration regulation would goa long way in attracting more potential tourists.Conference delegates in South Africa could be more easily convinced to do short side trips to Namibia if barriers to smooth access are lowered.
Ideally, we should all be working as a team promoting Namibia to the rest of the world, building friendlyrelations and attracting visitors to our country who will add to forex earnings, make use ofservices and facilities in Namibia, thereby generating added income and job opportunities for our people.
The author is the Chairman of the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) and Board Member of FENATA. The excerpts from his presentation at the recently concluded International Relations Policy Review Conference held in Windhoek.