The Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta says the recent xenophobic attacks in neighbouring South Africa have not negatively affected Namibia.
In an interview with New Era on the sidelines of the inauguration of five Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) members on Thursday, Shifeta said such factors in the region can negatively affect other nations, but so far have not impacted the local tourism sector.
The NTB is now chaired by Paul Brinkmann who together with Silas Shakumu, Madelein /Goagoses, Terance Makari and Marie Friede are the new board members.
Recently many South African nationals have reportedly taken the law into their own hands against Nigerians and some other foreign nationals for allegedly committing crimes in the community. Some shops belonging to immigrants were looted in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital.
“So far what happened in South Africa did not affect Namibia. Namibia has a very good reputation internationally and tourists, wherever they are, always talk about Namibia,” Shifeta said.
Shifeta announced his plan to achieve two million tourist arrivals to the country within the next three years. Namibia recorded 1.51 million foreign arrivals for 2015, a 3 percent increase from 2014 when the figure was 1.4 million.
Of the total foreign arrivals recorded, 1.38 million were tourists while 15 580 were returning residents and 99 883 same-day visitors.
Asked on how Namibia plans to achieve such a huge target, Shifeta responded: “We will achieve the two million within three years in the absence of any factors that may intervene. As it is now, at the rate of growth we are moving, the possibility of achieving the two million is there, no doubt about that,” he said.
According to him, there is a need to cover more tourist markets such as Asia and some parts of Western Europe that “are not coming on board”. He however said a good number of tourists come from eastern and central Europe.
He noted that through aggressive marketing the northern African and American markets are responding better.
Shifeta said there is a need to upgrade Namibia’s aviation industry in terms of facilities due to the increasing number of airlines that introduced their flights in Namibia.
Three new airlines were recently introduced in the country – Ethiopian, Qatar and KLM airlines.
Sometimes tourists want to come but the facilities are not really good. Sometimes the three airlines all come and there is no capacity to handle that number. You find a queue and sometimes the tourists endure the heat and rain. We don’t want that to happen, he stressed.
He said he visited Hosea Kutako International Airport last week, accompanied by the Inspector General of the Namibian Police, Sebastian Ndeitunga, to assess the facilities for security reasons for tourist arrivals and saw there was a need to increase capacity of personnel and enhance infrastructure development once funds are available.
We identified some things that really need to be tackled as soon as possible, especially personnel. We are supposed to double personnel, especially now with more airlines arriving. That’s on the side of the police, customs and immigration, he noted.
Even though the country is faced with financial constraints any loopholes should be fixed, he said.
According to him, there are times when 10 police officers are needed on duty but there is no space.
He argued that with the increased number of airlines, there is a need to have more police officers deployed at the airport.
Namibia’s tourism sector will grow vigorously and would employ 64 160 people by 2022, according to predictions contained in the drafted Fifth National Development Plan (NDP5).
The recently released draft indicates that a proxy for the tourism sector grew by an average of eight percent during the NDP4 period, contributing about 1.7 percent to GDP.
The tourism industry is an important contributor to the generation of foreign exchange earnings, investment, revenue, employment, rural development, poverty reduction and growth of the country’s economy.
Tourism also creates strong direct and peripheral benefits because of its multiplier effect, based on its reliance on widespread supplies and services.
The report says this would be achieved through the promotion of economic empowerment that will include policy design and implementation to support emerging entrepreneurs in the tourism sector.
Promotion of enforcement and self-enforcement to and by operators with regard to the standards quality of facilities and services to meet international best practices, the report says.
The report further indicated that the marketing and promotion efforts in Europe and southern Africa would remain a core part of tourism efforts in Namibia.
The activities will include awareness among the domestic population of the power of tourism, ensure conservation as a key policy priority for tourism in Namibia and promote communal conservancies and cultural tourism, it says.
Awareness will further promote ecotourism to ensure that Namibia protects its environment and uniqueness.
In accordance with the National Tourism Investment Profile and Promotion Strategy 2016-2026, the government will promote public-private-partnerships to attract foreign investment, invest in roads linking tourist destinations and infrastructure with communal conservancies.
However, the tourism sector is also faced with challenges of seasonality, which means that incomes do not flow throughout the year.
The report further indicated that international, regional and national incidents could have serious impacts on tourism, such as potential security threats.
In addition, the land tenure system in communal areas hampers development growth and investment in the tourism sector.
The Federation of Namibian Tourism Association (Fenata) chairperson Bernd Schneider is of the view domestic tourism has to some extent been neglected. There is a growing concern that Namibians generally do not have a culture of taking vacations, as many prefer to go to their villages.
“Domestic tourism has for many years been neglected,” he said, adding that one of the things Namibia didn’t really do right over a couple of years was to promote a dual price system, whereby lodges offer different prices to locals and than to international visitors.
He said Namibian lodges and hotels were supposed to be affordable to locals, but are currently not affordable to many. In this regard Schneider called on the local tourism industry to establish and develop infrastructure that fits into that cost profile.
Although the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) continues to actively promote various domestic campaigns aimed at creating awareness, which has led to an increase in domestic travel, he called for more concerted effort to ensure locals enjoy the great beauty Namibia has to offer.
He also applauded the Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) that offer the NamLeisure card (family membership), in addition to standing discounts for locals, which stand at 25 percent and 35 percent for pensioners.
He said many Namibians have been travelling to national parks and campsites since NWR introduced the 75 percent discount for the past three years. “They travel to campsites where they take their braai along. They don’t need the fancy, luxury and upmarket lodges that often cater for international needs.
According to Schneider, many Namibians have turned to what is called camp elephants, which cost them very little. These are self-catering bungalows where people go with their own food and drinks over weekends to enjoy themselves.
NWR during February ran a promotion aimed at encouraging domestic travelers to sign up for a Namleisure card at 50 percent of the cost. The aim was to encourage domestic travelers to acquire a Namleisure card, which entitles them to 50 percent discount whenever they visit any NWR facility including Sun Karros Daan Viljoen.
The Namleisure card comes in three variations to cater to different travelers. There is the Single’s card, which is aimed at individuals, while Namleisure Plus is aimed at couples and seems to be the most popular option, while the Namleisure Family card is aimed at two adults and two children between the ages of 13 and 17 years old.
At present NWR has over 4,000 Namleisure members.
According to the National Sustainable Tourism Growth and Development Strategy 2016-2026, there is no culture of taking vacations among Namibians to the extent that many do not take leisure holidays at all.
In their vacation time they go ‘up north’ to their villages. There is a need to raise awareness of the preferences of international visitors, since the culture does not exist locally, the report shows.