Tourism industry players have started enjoying the benefits of a steady increase in the number of Namibians visiting and enjoying the country’s many attractions.
Namibia’s seasonal tourism sector (roughly from July – November, with spikes at Christmas and Easter) driven by foreign arrivals, means that (in general) most product providers face relatively decreasing overseas and SADC regional arrivals for 6-7 months per year.
Their bookings are low and income dwindles, yet the fixed costs of maintaining world-class tourism facilities, paying staff and servicing bank loans remain the same month-on-month. Increasing the number of Namibians who travel during the low season when foreign tourists are not swarming into the country, can mean year-around revenues and steady job creation in the sector.
The tourism industry struggles to fill beds during the low season mainly because of the local market segment’s belief that ‘taking a vacation anywhere (even within Namibia) is expensive.’
When economic situations worsen, as is the case in Namibia currently, travel and tourism is seen as a non-essential living expense which is often reduced if not cut out completely until the crisis abates.
Most Namibians struggle to provide the basics for their families, and the idea of leisure travel and vacation is seen as a luxury that they would rather avoid. Travel is for family events, ‘going home to the village’ or related to employment or educational commitments.
Another reason why luxury domestic tourism took a backseat was because industry players concentrated more of their marketing budgets on international tourist arrivals at the expense of promoting domestic tourism.
However, in recent years, the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) and the private sector trade associations have focused on promoting domestic tourism after realising the its’ potentially positive economic impacts.
They have begun to develop and implement viable domestic tourism strategies.
The hospitality sector now offers several discounts and packages as incentives to get more Namibians to travel around the country.
According to Gondwana Collection Brand and Marketing Manager, Mannfred Goldbeck, the interest of locals to travel in Namibia is increasing.
“2016 was the best year of local travel so far as Namibians constituted more than 15 percent of all guests at our Gondwana lodges. The decline of 3.5 percent can be attributed to the tense economic situation in Namibia and the overwhelming number of foreign visitors in 2017,” Goldbeck said.
In 2017, Gondwana Collection welcomed 240,000 guests at their lodges and 30,000 of them (12 percent) were Namibians while almost the same number visited the collection’s campsites.
This was achieved through different initiatives which has seen the company carry out rigorous campaigns on social media and through other means.
“…We try to tell that to our compatriots through online campaigns and videos on social media, as well as with newspaper and website contributions on topics related to nature, culture, history, flora, fauna etc.
“Gondwana is actively trying to make Namibia mouth-watering. And yes, we think that Namibians of all walks of life are getting more and more interested in experiencing the attractions of their home country themselves,” Goldbeck said.
To make travelling affordable for the local population, Gondwana introduced the Gondwana Card for Namibian citizens and for tourists from the SADC region in 2006, where Namibian card holders receive a 50 percent discount on bed and breakfast and 25 percent on dinner and activities (SADC 40 percent discount on accommodation and 25 percent on dinner and activities), excluding camping.
“It has become very popular. The average income in Namibia and the SADC countries is significantly lower than in Europe or North America. With the Gondwana Card we want to enable more people from Namibia and the region at large to travel the country – in order to increase awareness within society for the value of nature and its gentle utilisation for tourism.
“So far, we have issued nearly 70,000 Gondwana Cards of which 60 percent are Namibian Gondwana Card holders,” Goldbeck said.
State owned Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) has also reported an increase in domestic visitors to their campsites across the country over the past few years.
In the 2015/2016 financial year, NWR received 57,803 domestic visitors at its facilities, which then increased to 60,857 guests in the following financial year.
According to Manager Corporate Communications and Online Media, Mufaro Nesongano, locals are frequenting NWR facilities within the Etosha National Park as well as their other facilities near towns such as Hardap, and Gross Barmen.
“When it comes to domestic tourism, we are pleased to say that over the past few years, we have seen an increase in visitors based on the promotions we have been offering. A good example is the 75 percent discount that we offer to Namibians during March,” Nesongano said.
As part of their incentives, NWR offers specials during most national holidays in addition to the NamLeisure card that entitles Namibians to a 50 percent discount on accommodation.
“We also offer 25 percent discount to any Namibian and 35 percent discount to pensioners. The one thing that we have been working on is dispelling the perception that travelling is expensive. Through our specials and NamLeisure product, we have seen that there is a movement away from that thought pattern as more locals are starting to see that it is within their means to visit us,” Nesongano said.
Industry players highlighted that most locals usually vacation during Christmas, Easter and school holidays.
Although domestic tourism is increasing, industry players still feel that there is more room to grow, but it will take time for the country to fully realise domestic tourism.
“For many Namibians, a holiday in their own country is still not affordable, even with the Gondwana Card. This is aggravated by the current economic situation. Furthermore, Namibia is a vast country. If you want to reach a destination you have to cover long distances. A short weekend trip is often not worthwhile for local travelers due to the costs involved,” Goldbeck said.
The Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) acknowledges that domestic tourism is slowly picking up, but said more still needs to be done in terms of marketing to change the perception that tourism is expensive.
MET Spokesperson, Romeo Muyunda, said even though domestic tourism numbers have started picking up, most Namibians are still not touring their own country.
“The main challenge is perception; many people still think they cannot tour their own country and would rather travel elsewhere to experience things that are offered in Namibia. Some perceive tourism as only for ‘foreigners.’ Furthermore, Namibian tourism is perceived to be more expensive despite the promotions and special rates offered to local people,” Muyunda said.