Tourism growth remarkable since 1990
Approximately 5 000 tourism-related businesses are currently registered in Namibia
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the value of Namibia's tourism sector, not only as it pertains to financial gains, but also to the job opportunities it provides.Over the past 33 years, the tourism infrastructure in Namibia has grown remarkably, with hundreds of new establishments in various scope, size and category developed across the country.
Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) CEO Gitta Paetzold says that when Namibia became independent in 1990, the existing tourism industry was largely run by a few larger tour companies such as SWA Safaris, Springbok Atlas, and Oryx Tours.
This was together with the larger accommodation establishments hosting incoming tour groups, such as Safari Hotels, Namib Sun Hotels, a few guest farms, and the ever-popular campsites and resorts inside Etosha National Park.
"The marketing and promotion of Namibia’s tourism sector had been done under the flag of SATOUR, while travel from and to South Africa before independence was seamless, with no visas required by either nationality."
Paetzold said that this came to an abrupt halt at independence, prompting some tourism stakeholders together with the then tourism minister to arrange for a "blitz tour" to South Africa.
This was to ensure that the South African market as well as the transit market through South Africa into Namibia could be upheld despite the formal visa and immigration procedures put in place.
"Admittedly, tourism was not a priority for young Namibia, with focus more on fisheries, agriculture and mining, and as such, Namibian tourism stakeholders, including HAN, had a hard task to convince the government of the value and potential of tourism as a key economic sector."
She says that archive documentation held by HAN shows that it made a concerted effort as far back as 1993 to convince the government that the tourism and hotel industries should be exempt from the specific clauses on double pay for Sunday and holiday work in the Labour Act.
"In fact, just before the first annual congress of HAN held in Swakopmund in 1990, the association already formed an advisory committee on labour relations to assist and advise association members on labour matters such as the implications and requirements of the changing Labour Act at the time, a topic that remains actual until today."
Paetzold says that the tourism ministry in the early 1990s appointed an international consultant to draft a report on the potential of tourism, and Cabinet approved the Tourism White Paper proposing the establishment of the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) in 1994.
"Then followed intense consultation between the ministry and the industry on the NTB Bill, finally culminating in the establishment of this board in 2000."
She says that approximately 5 000 tourism-related businesses are currently registered with NTB, indicating that the tourism sector has established itself as a key economic pillar in Namibia.
These businesses include accommodation, tour operations, car rentals, and tour facilitators.
"The beauty of the tourism sector lies in the opportunities it offers for emerging entrepreneurs to get involved, either by offering guiding services, small shuttle operations, arts, crafts and cultural and gourmet tourism that over the years has become an attractive selling point for the travel industry."
Paetzold says that the effects of Covid-19 from 2020 to 2022 have reiterated the value and impact of the tourism industry on Namibia, not only in terms of the monetary and financial income it generates and foreign currency earned, but maybe more importantly, the employment opportunities it holds for Namibians.
Paetzold says that across the globe, the biggest challenge facing the travel industry in 2023 seems to be skills and staff shortages.
"When travel resumed post-pandemic, there was chaos at international airports due to the lack of ground-handling staff, and flights were cancelled due to a lack of air steward personnel."
She says even in the hospitality industry, there seems to be an international crisis in terms of available skills to service this sector.
"It would seem as if all people with good customer care and human relations skills, vital for tourism, have sought other employment opportunities."
According to Paetzold, while the tourism sector may not seem to offer the most attractive employment conditions given the long hours and does not offer the most lucrative salaries, the workplace environment offers some of the most pristine and beautiful scenery.
It also provides the opportunity to interact with guests and people from all walks of life.
"Being partly paid in sunsets and having direct access to the international travel market through direct exposure and engagement with the global travel industry, is a major advantage of working in tourism and the Namibian tourism sector."
Paetzold says that they have in fact seen international leisure companies scouting for talent in Namibia to fill their vacancies, and Namibia is advised to open up and make a concerted effort to facilitate the international exchange of skills.
She says that, especially in the travel and tourism sector, skills in hospitality are the same across the globe, and the exchange of such skills and exposure of people in tourism to the source markets may enrich and even strengthen their skills.
According to Paetzold, the industry has learned flexibility, reliance, and sacrifice from the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Honestly, on the question of whether the travel industry could have or should have prepared itself better to fend off the devastating impact of the pandemic, there is still no clear answer."
She says that some companies have worked on crisis management policies, but there is still a general belief that the world is still unprepared for another crisis at this point.
Paetzold says that over the past two years, the Namibian travel industry has been hard at work to keep Namibia high on the radar of the international travel trade, be it through online marketing or virtual engagements with global partners.
In recent months, with the return of physical attendance at trade fairs, Namibian tourism players have and will also showcase the country at an international level, be it at the CMT Consumer Fair in Stuttgart, Germany, Fitur in Spain, Vakantie Beurs in Holland, or Atlanta in the USA, with the biggest tourism trade fair, and also at the ITB in Berlin in early March.
"Namibia remains a popular destination, and we need to ensure that our service level and accessibility match and exceed the demand and expectations of both the global and local travel sectors."
She says that there is scope for growth in both international and domestic markets; while the domestic market received intensive and, at some point, exclusive attention due to the pandemic, Namibia has always catered for all, both in terms of the type of product and the rates acceptable to the market.
According to her, while the commercial and visual promotion efforts may be targeting the strong and lucrative international market, there are numerous initiatives for the local market for special dates and occasions, not to mention the many sporting events, that all add to the leisure travel market.
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