By Surihe Gaomas SOSSUSVLEI A multi-million-dollar world-class lodge by Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) is destined for the Namib Naukluft Park in the Sossusvlei desert area within the next eight months. This marks the first major tourism development by the state-owned NWR since independence in 1990. The new ‘Sossus Dune Lodge’, which will be constructed at a cost of N$12 million, is a major part of the state owned company’s turnaround strategy under the new management led by Managing Director Tobie Aupindi, who was appointed in April this year. Officially marking the ground-breaking event on Friday at a site situated just a few kilometres from Sesriem Camp, Minister of Environment and Tourism Willem Konjore commended the NWR team for changing the company’s ad-hoc approach to business to one having a more focussed and professional look. Konjore applauded the team for successfully managing to break the record in getting a viable business plan and a positive turn-around strategy. “Let’s be satisfied with what has been accomplished so far, but so much more can be done because we are still in the early stages,” explained Konjore, adding that given the negative background from which the company came especially last year, the setting up of a new lodge in the pristine natural environment of the desert area of Sossusvlei was a step in the right direction. Previously, the NWR did not perform very well and its management and administration had deteriorated rapidly, together with its finances and service delivery. Through the years, efforts were made by the line ministry as well as government to rectify the situation. “A culture of poor management, laziness, fraud and a complete lack of control seemed to be the order of the day,” said Konjore, adding that government saw this an unacceptable. Echoing similar sentiments, Chairperson of the Board of NWR, Angelina Nauta-Sinvula, said that a year ago NWR was “a seriously crippled and directionless company – but now that is rapidly changing for the better”. The breaking point was last year in September when staff members of the company went on strike over salaries. Soon afterwards, an Interim Permanent Scheme was established by government headed by Ambassador William Amagulu, who was also present at the groundbreaking ceremony of the planned lodge. Now under Aupindi, who has been introducing radical and positive changes in the company for the past six months, the company will establish the first lodge in a protected environment. In order to keep the natural environment intact, the lodge will be situated just behind the red mountains of the desert and built with only natural products like thatch, wood and canvas. “We are looking at smaller exclusive resorts that are economically friendly to the environment,” said Aupindi, adding that it will be a world-class lodge for tourists and locals alike and will offer favourite Namibian delicacies and cuisine. Plans are under way for NWR to use locally grown vegetables from the Etunda agricultural project for most of its dishes at its resorts and lodges countrywide. The new ‘African Village’-looking lodge will be constructed on stilts with walkways and consist of 25 units with 50 beds. It is also expected to employ 56 locals from the area. Meanwhile, financial losses at the NWR have been curtailed and the company is running on a professional and profitable basis, said Group Advisor to the Managing Director, Najeeb Khan, who has 27 years of experience in tourism in Africa. Much more focus is on management and staff skills development, customer focussed business, infrastructure development and generating funds for the company. Currently, NWR is revamping its lodges and resorts at Etosha Park and enhancing the business training of its staff members.
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