By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The highly successful Gondwana Desert Collection group of lodges based in southern Namibia has received close to 200ÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒ…ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â 000 tourists since it first started operating 10 years ago. The tourism venture clearly illustrates the tremendous potential tourism has in contributing to economic development in Namibia. In only 10 years, the company has created 253 direct jobs and another 885 estimated indirect jobs, with 1.3% of all Namibians in tourism-related jobs employed by this one company. Managing Director of Gondwana Desert Collections, Mannfred Goldbeck, related some of the history behind the lodges at a function held to mark the 10th anniversary of the company recently. The success of the company can be attributed to the vision and foresight of the four original promoters of the tourism project – among them two local farmers. The first lodge opened by the group was on a farm owned by one of the farmers, with an old colonial farmhouse as its centrepiece. Goldbeck said all signs of life had disappeared from the farm but, starting 1996, it was transformed into an oasis in the desert. This oasis grew into a collection of nine lodges; in four separate nature reserves covering a total of 183ÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒ…ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â 000 hectares through which close to a quarter million visitors have now passed. The idea behind embarking on a tourism venture was inspired by a desire to further conservation and the recognition of certain stark realities about the environment in southern Namibia. “In the long run, livestock farming is not viable in desert systems like the Nama Karoo of southern Namibia,” the company says. Average precipitation around the Fish River Canyon is less than 100 mm a year and lengthy periods of drought are a regular feature. Livestock farming poses the risk of severe overgrazing, and the necessary fences prevent game from moving around as part of their normal survival strategy in response to changes in grazing conditions. It was these realities that gave birth to the idea of rather utilizing the land for tourism. The company says hospitality businesses have environmental impact on a much smaller area than farming activities, provide higher returns and create more and better paid jobs. Gondwana’s cradle is CaÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â±on Lodge at farm Karios, about 20 km from the main lookout point at the Fish River Canyon. The lodge welcomed the first group of guests in November 1996. Extension work started as soon as everything was running smoothly. CaÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â±on Roadhouse, completed in June 1999, was intended as a rustic, affordable country inn and also sported a camping site. As the demand for accommodation in the vicinity of the canyon continued to rise, it was decided to add CaÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â±on Village, which opened in August 2003. The concept which proved so successful at Gondwana CaÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â±on Park was applied to other desert areas in 2004. The Gondwana Desert Collection today consists of four parks in which guests touring the south can experience all four of Namibia’s deserts: Gondwana Kalahari Park, Gondwana CaÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â±on Park, Gondwana Sperrgebiet Rand Park and Gondwana Namib Park.