08 Juli 2020 | Geschäft

Tourism drought needn't shrivel sector

Despite the devastation caused by Covid-19, voices in the local industry still believe the country could in the medium term bounce back as a fierce competitor in tourism, provided Namibia plays its cards right and right now.

Doing nothing and hoping for the tourism private sector to stem growth alone, will not be sufficient. – Bernd Schneider, Tourism expert

Jo-Maré Duddy



Without a coordinated, dedicated national effort – which includes a whole government and society – to remove barriers that hinder tourism growth, the local industry will fall behind its direct competitors in the region and even on an international level.

Tourism expert Bernd Schneider sounded this warning in a concept paper sent to all relevant stakeholders and government entities of the highest level last October. He is also the chairman of the Federation of Namibian Tourism Associations (Fenata) and the interim chairman of the Tour and Safari Association of Namibia (TASA).

“If Namibia wants to remain a sought-after travel destination, doing nothing and hoping for the tourism private sector to stem growth alone, will not be sufficient,” Schneider said.

If Schneider's words were crucial then, they are critical now. The Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in travel bans, lockdowns, job losses and retrenchments in an economy already riddled by a prolonged recession, has Namibia's tourism sector on its knees.



'Extremely bad'

Schneider describes the prevailing situation in the local tourism industry as “extremely bad”.

“Nearly all tourism entities had hardly any income in the last three months. This includes, among others, accommodation establishments, tour operators, activity operators, tour guides, hunting operations and even souvenir vendors and craft shops,” he says.

Prior to Covid, Namibia's tourism sector provided about 122 000 jobs or 15.7% of total employment in the country, according to Schneider's paper, “Unlocking Namibia's Tourism Potential”. The entire industry contributed nearly 11% to the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

The impact of Covid-19 has changed all of that.

Official statistics in Namibia only measures hotels and restaurants as a proxy for tourism. In April 2019, the Bank of Namibia (BoN) forecast growth of 1.6% for hotels and restaurants in 2020.

In its latest economic outlook update released in April 2020, the central bank forecasts growth of -58% for this year. Money-wise, this ­estimation means that hotels and restaurants' contribution to the GDP at current prices will drop by more than N$2.2 billion to around N$1.7 billion.

Life after corona

Despite the devastation, voices in the local industry still believe the country could in the medium term bounce back as a fierce competitor in tourism, provided Namibia plays its cards right and right now.

“We are convinced that given our set-up – a country with wide open spaces, sparse population, sunshine in abundance and a good infra-structure – Namibia may well be seen as most ideal post-Covid destination to escape to from the shackles of lockdown and overcrowded spaces,” says the chief executive officer of the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN), Gitta Paetzold.

“Namibians are prepared to receive hunting clients/tourists in a safe and hygienic environment, meeting international requirements. Namibia has wide open spaces, a small population and great weather to provide ideal cir­cumstances for a wonderful experience,” the chief executive officer of the Namibia Professional Hunting Association (NAPHA), Tanja Dahl, adds.

Schneider is convinced that Namibia hasn't ­suffered any reputational damage as tourism destination due to the Covid pandemic.

“Actually, I believe quite the opposite is true.

“Namibia has an abundance of untouched nature, the country is sparsely populated and our tourism industry is primarily based on nature-based activities and tours. These are all characteristics which will be much sought-after in the post-Covid tourism world,” he says.



Recovery

Recovery won't happen overnight, though.

Schneider says they work on realistic projections that international tourism will only return to the 2019 levels by mid-2023. The BoN only provides projections for next year and forecasts that hotels and restaurants will remain in recession. It expects growth of -1.4% in 2021.

“Since this is a world-wide pandemic, many of the supply chains in tourism have also been negatively affected by the world-wide border closures and the disposable income of potential clients has been eroded away. Even though countries are starting to open their borders again, the stream of international travellers will only gradually increase, as there are still many uncertainties for travellers,” Schneider says.

Paetzold agrees: “We are also fully aware of the fact that the hunger for travel – while the desire may still be strong – is dampened by fear of the unknown, the inconvenience of the 'new norm' and precautions, as well as the financial shackles faced by all.”

In his paper, Schneider maintains that ­tourism's contribution to the GDP could increase from 11% to 25%, provided a “coordinated, ­dedicated approach towards tourism development in Namibia” is adopted.



“This would mean an additional N$22 billion increase in Namibia's GDP,” he says, adding it would lead to significant employment opportunities through-out the country.

“If managed carefully, which includes ensuring the natural environments and wildlife remain protected and well taken care of, tourism can be the golden ticket towards a very prosperous Namibia – not only for a few industry leaders for a relatively short period of time, but for the broad population as a whole, irrespective of the region or area they stay in for many years to come,” Schneider says.



Way forward

Tourism in Namibia has for the last 30 years grown consistently, primarily based on the natural wonders that Namibia has to offer, ­Schneider says.

“Unfortunately, this growth is beginning to stagnate and, if not properly addressed, will turn into a decline,” he warns.

“The change in how people travel, but much more so the ever decreasing quality of the visitor experience in Namibia, need to be addressed to ensure further tourism growth,” Schneider says.

Successful and upcoming tourism destinations all have one thing in common, he says: “They have committed substantial resources towards tourism development, paired with a coordinated and dedicated national drive to clear hindrances and create an enabling policy environment that encourages tourism growth.”

According to Schneider: “To remain a sough-after and competitive travel destination, Namibia will need to do much more in regard to tourism development, than it currently does. It is no longer sufficient to promote the unique landscapes, the wildlife and diverse cultures to attract the interest of potential tourists.”

The success of tourism in Namibia depends on different factors, many of which fall completely outside of the authority and control of the ministry of environment and tourism, he says.



Coordinated effort

“A baseline starting point and an absolute necessity to ensure further growth, is a coordinated, dedicated national effort to remove all the currently existing blockages towards further growth.”

Establishing the Namibian Tourism Competitive Advisory Council (NTCAC) and the Inter-Ministerial Council on Tourism (ICT) has been a “very important step towards this coordinated effort, but the last two years have proven that these two bodies, in their current form, are unable to achieve the desired outcome”, ­Schneider says.

“The basic concept is correct, but the terms of reference, the mandate, as well as the authority, of both the NTCAC and the ICT, have to be revised.”

Schneider continues: “One of the key concerns towards more tourism development is that substantial finances are required to make the necessary improvements.”

He suggests the establishment of a Tourism Development Fund, which is completely detached for the general government finances. The fund could be primarily fed by a tourism development levy – which could be charged over and above park entrance fees and entrance fees to heritage sites – and supported by international development agencies and tourism service providers.

“The Covid pandemic is a short-term crisis, which unfortunately has a significant impact on tourism and our country, but in the medium and long term, tourism is the economic sector that has the best chance of wide-spread employment creation and overall socio-economic upliftment,” Schneider says.

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