Tourism Set for Boom Time

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By Francis Mukuzunga WINDHOEK As Namibia celebrates World Tourism Day today, the country’s tourism industry is set to scale new heights this season as the industry expects a major increase in visitors to its top 10 destinations and other places of leisure. However, there are some issues that need to be resolved to bring about the maximum benefits of the sector for the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with tourism currently estimated at 16 percent of the country’s total output. The top 10 destinations, as described in the latest study by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) on Namibia, include Windhoek, which takes at least 80 percent of the market share, followed by Swakopmund (50%), Walvis Bay (38%) and Etosha (32%). The other popular destinations are Sossusvlei, the Namib Naukluft Park, Fish River Canyon, Damaraland, LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz, Spitzkoppe and Waterberg. In an interview last week, the Namibia Tourism Board’s chief executive officer Gideon Shilongo said the tourism season currently in its peak has begun showing prospects for major growth but as things stand there are burning issues that have to be looked at immediately. Chief among them are pricing, international politics and marketing Namibia as a tourism product. Shilongo believes that the strong Namibian dollar, tied to the South African rand for all pricing, could be a deterrent for international visitors when compared to other major African destinations such as Kenya that charge in the Euro or US dollar, and which destinations are currently cheaper in terms of the exchange rate. On top of that, Shilongo said, the major source markets of Europe have been greatly affected by political events since September 11, 2001 and the French/German standoff against Britain and the United States on the war in Iraq. The terrorism threat and the recent outbreaks of diseases like bird flu have also been contributing factors. “In this case, this market is reluctant to travel to faraway destinations such as Namibia and other parts of Africa. But the few that come our way have helped shape our earnings today,” he said. “Regionally, we have countries such as Zimbabwe that are under EU sanctions. Whenever tourists from Europe cancel their visits to major destinations such as the Victoria Falls, we are also affected because of these sanctions.” However, Shilongo maintains the NTB is generally happy with the scope and trends of the industry. He said the NTB has developed a wholesome package for the development of the sector as part of the government’s Vision 2030 programme. According to the WTTC report, the tourism sector’s contribution to the national GDP in 2006 is expected at over N$6,79 billion in direct and indirect earnings. This figure is expected to support almost 72 000 jobs in the national economy or 18 percent of the country’s employment rate. In the short-to-medium term, the tourism promotion and marketing body is looking at boosting the whole of Namibia as a competitive destination – be it through issues on safety, pricing, value-for-money or awareness programmes. In the longer term, he says, the Government of Namibia has a duty to support the entry of black Namibians into the sector through appropriate BEE programmes. Overall, Shilongo believes that Namibians have a duty to create a long-lasting impression on tourists so that the country becomes a referral point when they go back home. In this respect, NTB and other players in the sector are also eyeing the 2010 Soccer World Cup in neighbouring South Africa and the AFCON games in Angola the same year, as major boosters to the industry that should not only benefit the host countries, but the region as a whole. “We are looking at working with partners in the SADC region to use the 2010 soccer extravaganza through enticing participating nations to pass through our countries when they hold practice sessions for their teams, for example.” In the NBC talk show programme on Monday night, Talk of the Nation, guests from the country’s tourism sector unanimously agreed that government and the private sector should invest much more into the industry. Willem de Wet, President of the Federation of Namibian Tourism Associations (FENATA) and his CEO, Jacqueline Asheeke, said government should pump in a lot of money to market the country abroad as well as to encourage domestic tourism among locals. Managing Director of Wilderness Safaris, David van Smeerdijk, said as a land of contrasts, Namibia has the potential to offer tourism all year round by alternating the marketing of the various destinations during their peak periods, and not to have to wait for one season that lasts for a short time. Ownership of the proceeds of tourism by indigenous people has been a bone of contention for many. In this regard, government came up with legislature for the creation of conservancies so that communities can play a role through the protection of, and benefiting directly from, their own natural resources. One such initiative is the Kunene Regional Conservancy Association whose head, Klemens /Awarab, believes this is the way to go: “Tourism belongs to the people and conservation tourism has been legislated so that communities can play a role through consumptive and non-consumptive initiatives that may arise.” In other words, /Awarab believes that communities living in areas where the major or minor attractions are situated are the ones to benefit first before the rest of the country does. Investors embarking on new or existing projects need to consider these communities as partners in their business. More work, however, has to be done in this regard to create mutual understanding and trust among all players. Could this then be the beginning of a truly transparent BEE programme in Namibia’s tourism industry?