By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism Leon Jooste has urged Namibians to explore their own country and enjoy the beauty that Namibia is endowed with. The tourism sector is largely invisible to most Namibians. “We need to sensitize Namibians that they become tourists in their own country. There are many Namibians who have not visited our national tourism attractions like Sossusvlei, Damaraland,” Jooste strongly stated. These attractions are the top reasons for international visitors. During the official opening of the Namibia Tourism Expo 2006, the deputy minister added that the local people should start considering the tourism industry as a sector that has a role to play in the economy of the country. He emphasised the need for the local people to make time and see what the industry has to offer. “The internal objective of the Expo is to create local awareness about the importance of the tourism sector. It is an opportunity for the public to be a tourist for a day and experience some small part of what is on offer to the world,” Jooste stated. Since its introduction seven years ago, the Expo has had phenomenal increase in participants. In 2004, 200 exhibitors participated at this gathering, with 7 100 visitors recorded. Last year the Expo saw 345 exhibitors. This year, though the organisers did not have the exact figure, they are positive that the number exceeds that of last year. The majority of exhibitors are local people, with a few foreign participants from Zimbabwe, Indonesia, India and Malaysia. In support of Jooste’s view, Mayor of the City of Wind-hoek Matthew Shikongo added that tourism has the ability to generate much-needed foreign exchange, job opportunities and the local income as well as tax and other government revenue. Given that, it is important that the Namibian people visit the Expo and seek information about the various industry suppliers, new products and even recent developments in the industry. The Expo through the years has also proved to be a platform that creates an opportunity for smaller Namibian operators that are unable to participate at international events such as the ITB in Berlin and Indaba in Durban to showcase their products. Jooste reminded well-established corporate Namibian tour operators to commit themselves and be represented in numbers at the Expo. “Without their international brand recognition, we may not be able to achieve the kind of outside attention and scope that could help the Expo grow and flourish even faster.” Further, larger tourism operators who earn their income in the country have an obligation to actively participate in building and strengthening the economy locally. He added that the expertise of big tourism business operators is not only needed at the international level to sell the country but also at home to inspire young businesses in the sector – the Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SMEs). “The Expo is an excellent networking for all tourism enterprises (whether) big or small.” As a way of marketing the industry to the local people, the deputy minister called on operators and product owners to aggressively compile packages that are affordable to Namibians. The Namibia Tourism Expo started in June 1999 as the Holiday and Travel Expo. The Expo ends Sunday.