At the 2019 Namibia Economic Growth Summit held in Windhoek to revive inclusive economic growth, a breakaway session on Unlocking Tourism’s Potential was held on July 31st,
where a talented panel of tourism experts led by the Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta, tackled the challenge laid down by President Hage Geingob when he opened the conference by saying: “This is the time to shake the tree and take corrective measures to effectively boost economic transformation.”
The goals of the session were to look at Namibia’s competitive advantages in the hospitality, travel and tourism sector and examine barriers to increased investment. The panel was invited to specifically suggest targeted ideas on how to increase tourism arrivals which will in turn increase employment, state revenues, and private sector profits and encourage more investment.
The tourism panel included: Collin Bell, a well-known entrepreneur and co-founder of one of the most successful tour and safari companies in Africa, Wilderness Safaris, who later went on to found Natural Selection Safaris and Gys Joubert, the Managing Director of Namibia’s own successful Gondwana Collection that has 18 lodges and employs over 1,000 people.
Also on the panel was Tom Buncle, Managing Director of Yellow Railroad based in the UK, which is an international destination marketing consultancy company and Bernd Schneider, the Chairman of the Federation of Namibian Tourism Associations (FENATA).
The Minister opened the session by stating that 1.4 million tourists arrived in Namibia in 2018 which represents a significant increase over previous years. However, he stated, “Tourism worldwide tops over 1.4 billion travellers with only 60 million coming to all of Africa.” The challenge is to increase the flow of world travellers to Africa and specifically Namibia.
Shifeta stated, “There are more revenues to be gained, but we must sustainably provide for a better tourism experience for our visitors.”
Bell confirmed that Namibia “gets it right” with the tourism product offered for the mid-level world traveller. “Namibia has landscapes and wildlife and cultural presentation at a high level; those boxes are ticked. Namibia does an extraordinary job and gets an 8 or 9 out of 10. But, when you look at providing for the bigger-spending traveller, Namibia gets a 1 out of 10. This is not a negative, it is a growth opportunity.”
The South African Tourism Board member suggested that revenues can be increased by including exclusive park entry times and special entry gates (for a higher price) for privacy-seeking, higher-end travellers.
He stated that offering more benefits to high-end tourists can raise an additional “N$600 million each year for MET.”
Joubert suggested that companies already investing in Namibia can increase that investment with support from government on two fronts, “inside national parks and on communal conservancies.”
He stated that if opportunities inside parks are available equally to all, then there can be innovative business opportunities right now.
Gondwana has made successful investments in communal areas, but the conservancy investment model needs tweaking. “The model, as seen in the King Nehale conservancy where Gondwana is building an N$85 million lodge on land that belongs to the community, can work. The community gets a guaranteed 50 percent profit share. But, the problem is that the land tenure is only 25 years. Take N$85 million and divide it into 25 years and the profitability of the model runs into problems; rather, make it a 99 year lease. Land tenure must be secure to encourage larger investments.”
Buncle says, “The world has misperceptions about Africa that can block people from booking trips to the continent. We need to use all avenues to spread the word about the beauty and safety of Africa.” Increasing improved roads, air access and training in customer service in Namibia are other ways to increase tourism arrivals.
And finally, Schneider made the strong point that summit sessions on tourism must include all the ministers. “There is great potential, but a lack of understanding of tourism and that leads to low commitment to the growth of the sector.”
Tourism is a cross-cutting sector; all ministries have a role that touches tourism. Schneider concluded that, “Profitable growth in the tourism sector can increase from 11 percent GDP contribution to 15 percent, easily.”