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Namibia - a continent in one country

Avatar of inke inke - 29. mai 2018 - Economics, Tourism

Mannfred Goldbeck

From the first time Namibia made headlines, the world took notice. In 1875, Charles John Andersson’s bestseller Notes of Travel in South-western Africa put the country on the map in the western world. People began to refer to the country by its geographical location.  It received more attention when diamonds were discovered in 1908, and over the years with Sam Davis’s reportage about the windswept Skeleton Coast in 1933, Namibian independence in 1990 and actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s visit in 2006, just to mention a few. 

News of the natural beauty of the country soon spread – with its range of scenery from desert dunes to lush waterways, as well as its good infrastructure, stable democracy and press freedom. Namibia, the ‘darling of Africa’, became known as one of the easiest countries on the continent to visit, with its fascinating people, landscapes and wildlife adding to the romantic appeal that Africa has always held for the intrepid traveller.

With a small number of foreign tourists compared to the rest of the world, it has one of the fastest growing tourism sectors and has been ranked among the best and safest countries in Africa for travel. The relative weakness of southern African currencies has also made it not only attractive, but affordable for European visitors.

A look at the past 28 years of Namibian tourism has identified two key influencing factors: confidence in the country and affordability. Namibia has historically experienced notable increases in tourism when the South African rand, to which the Namibian dollar is directly linked, has weakened. Although international and African events have negatively affected tourism numbers, these have been temporary setbacks. These include 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and closer to home, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. 

The role of tourism in the Namibian economy

Following peaceful elections in 1990, Namibia’s leadership forged ahead with its intention to enhance transparency and to build an increasingly integrated, stable and positive society and economy. This conducive environment has supported the growth of Namibian tourism from a fledging sector trying to establish itself following independence to the more developed (albeit still maturing) industry it is today. Given the relative infancy of our industry, our average annual tourist growth of 5.5% over the past 20 years has therefore been an exceptional achievement. Currently, tourism contributes more than 15% to Namibia's gross domestic product. 

The tourism industry was responsible for 102 500 jobs (direct and indirect) in 2017, which was 19.2% of the total employment rate. By 2025, ‘Travel & Tourism’ is predicted to support 186 000 jobs (25% of total employment), an increase of 5.7% pa over the period. The tourism industry could therefore play a vital role in increasing employment in Namibia. Unemployment is presently around 30%. With every thirteen new tourists, it is estimated that one new job is created. In simple terms, growth in the number of tourists visiting Namibia has an immediate and significant impact on the country’s employment.

Namibia, a stellar example of environmental consciousness for the world 

Namibia was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution. Management of natural resources through the establishment of communal conservancies is another remarkably progressive policy.  

Namibia is regarded as a forerunner in terms of Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), with 42% of the country being under some form of conservation protection. CBNRM concepts have been applied all over Namibia in an attempt to empower local communities and allow them to generate economic benefits, while enlisting their support for nature conservation. This has had a significantly positive effect on ecotourism and the restoration and protection of the natural world. Presently, however, only 4% of all available beds in Namibia are to be found in conservancy areas, which means there is still enormous potential for tourism development. 

Although we are mindful of challenges, our leading and world-class conservation efforts establish our country as a distinctive and high quality nature and wildlife destination. 

Challenges for Namibia on today’s modern world-tourism stage

Namibia’s tourism industry is widely considered to be primarily white-owned and dominated. While black Namibians are well represented in lower and entry-level positions, business ownership, shareholding and hospitality management has not transformed sufficiently. This current context is unquestionably a legacy of apartheid and the industry’s development after independence. In order to speed up the transformation process, education and training needs must be addressed urgently to meet the skills requirements of our industry today and to achieve service excellence.

Namibia’s infrastructure has to keep up with the developments of the modern world. With increased urbanisation, construction and mining sector growth, the demand for electricity and water has increased. While the ground transport infrastructure is well developed by regional standards, its quality has to be maintained or even improved. And, with tourism picking up, airports also need to expand their capacity. 

A positive image of the country that gives tourists confidence that they are travelling in a safe place where they can have a rewarding African experience is an undeniably critical asset for our tourism industry. Ongoing management of ‘Brand Namibia’ on the world stage should therefore remain a key priority for our nation. 

Tourism in a highly socially-connected environment

The world has, since the early days of the Namibian tourism industry, become far more connected and accessible to travellers. This makes it more competitive than ever before. To continue to grow at the pace Namibian tourism has enjoyed so far, the sector will need to keep evolving its product and experience to meet the changing demands of an increasingly sophisticated traveller.

Today’s customers know more and demand more. With access to modern communication-technology and with greater access to information via the worldwide web and social media platforms, people are no longer as reliant on third parties for information – often planning and even executing their travel plans themselves. 

As travellers are also increasingly looking to connect in more personal and authentic ways with the destination they are in, sincere and insightful service touches are important dimensions of the Namibian travel experience. Customer experience management is more relevant than ever before. Therefore, impressive and unique guest experiences with enticing accommodation establishments and enthralling activities that exceed expectations are needed to attract visitors in this increasingly competitive market. 

A stable and reliable mobile data connection is still one of the biggest challenges in rural areas. Although network coverage in Namibia is advanced, an expanded 3G coverage is necessary for travellers to share their travel experiences online.

Unlocking Namibia’s full tourism potential

Namibia is known as the land of open spaces, a vast country of 824,268 km² with a population of only 2.3 million (density 2.2 per km²), representing 13 ethnic cultures. This fascinating cultural diversity together with extraordinary wildlife and landscapes, and effective environmental and CBNRM policies, make it a sustainable and attractive tourism destination where nature conservation will always play a crucial role. 

Government statistics cite Namibia as having received about 20 million tourists over the past 20 years. However, because of the definition of what an ‘international tourist’ is (any person who travels away from home for a consecutive period of at least 24 hours), only about a third of the 20 million can be classified as high value leisure tourists. This leaves a lot of room for more tourists in ‘the land of open spaces’, considering the following facts:

Namibian tourism follows a strong seasonal pattern. On average, Namibia enjoys exceptionally high occupancy in its high season from July to October. So much so, that accommodation availability becomes a significant challenge during these periods. Conversely, the low season occupancies are often as low as 25%. Namibia has roughly 300 days of sunshine with warm temperatures, which makes it a suitable travel destination all year round. While November to January is a popular time for Europeans escaping winter, the months January to June are perfect for a relaxing time away from the tourist bustle and an opportunity to experience surprising impressions of a blooming, green Namibia. 

On average, 75% of tourism activity takes place in the western region, Etosha National Park and the Zambezi Region where the majority of the tourist attractions in Namibia are situated. The rest of the country predominantly serves as an entry-point or transit location to these tourism hotspot areas. With an average annual rainfall below 150mm, the western area of the country is unsuitable for farming. The same applies to the Zambezi Region because of its barren soil. With the Etosha area being prone to wildlife-livestock conflict, it would be prudent to also classify this area as tourism-oriented - with regards to their land-use model of conservation -  as opposed to livestock farming. These specified areas have incredible potential to grow the tourism sector if properly incentivised. A socio-economic study conducted by the Gondwana Collection at its Fish River Canyon enterprise (situated in the below-150mm rainfall area) revealed that production per hectare was 34 times greater with tourism as a land-use form compared to commercial and/or communal farming.

In the past three decades, Namibia’s tourism sector has moved from the pioneering stages to a consolidating phase and is a valuable contributor to the Namibian economy. The remarkable growth in tourism has been exceptionally constructive for the country.  Tourism remains one of the most sustainable means of income generation at our disposal. Its impact on our land is minimal (compared to mining for example), and it simultaneously encourages the conservation of our country’s natural and cultural heritage. Above the value it has added to our economy to date, it holds even more potential to be unlocked. 

When the right processes are applied and when the conditions for development are supportive, the Namibian tourism industry will continue to grow from strength to strength, and with it, bring much-needed new jobs into the economy. With investor confidence in our country and the tourism sector, supported by tailor-made incentives, I believe that the future for tourism and the Namibian economy is bright. As we prepare ourselves, we need to be ever mindful that this next chapter in our tourism’s evolution is a journey, where efficient and effective preparation is followed by steady progress.

Tourism has the potential, if applied successfully, to be number one in the economic sector. Being sustainable, it has ample room for growth and holds vast potential. We have all the ingredients: a whole continent in one country with all its diversity, natural beauty and rich heritage.

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