By Surihe Gaomas AUS Armed with funding of N$1 million from the European Union (EU) and the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP), the settlement of Aus in the south is set for a tourism boom and more so after the recent opening of a tourist information centre. The Aus Tourist Information Centre was officially opened last Friday. This latest development is seen as a significant step for the community of Aus who have not only become the proud owners of the centre, but would also be able to lure more tourists, while conserving their rich culture and natural resources. The new building is situated some 200 kilometers from Keetmanshoop at the junction of the Aus village turnoff, a strategic place for visitors and locals alike to get more information about the village and its natural desert environment. Officially launching the centre, Minister of Environment and Tourism, Willem Konjore, said it was encouraging to note that the initial idea of establishing such a centre came from two local people who had the interests of the community at heart. Through the Aus Community Conservation Trust (ACCT) the new centre will be managed with the objective of promoting the fragile, yet rich desert environment of the south in a sustainable manner for the benefit of the community. In light of this, Konjore stressed that such venture is critical as the southern part of the country is still unknown to many Namibians today. “For a long time now Namibian people have forgotten about the south and its potential. It is up to us in the south to prove that wrong,” said Konjore, adding that the ministry gladly welcomes the “pro-poor tourism” initiative that has been undertaken to realise this goal. “I encourage you to involve also other communities in the Karas Region in this project as well as the whole of Namibia … You are on the right track and you have got the Ministry’s support,” he added. Besides the project being financed by the EU and SKEP, other major partners are Nature Investments and Klein-Aus Vista (t/a Gondwana Desert Collection, a group of private nature reserves in southern Namibia), and tour operator Cheetah Tours & Safaris. Young entrepreneur Claudia Baisitse, who grew up in Aus, runs the cafÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â©, restaurant and souvenir shop with a staff of three. Nature Investments and Klein-Aus Vista support her with training, advice, marketing and finance. With part of the proceeds, Baisitse pays rent to the Aus Community Conservation Trust (ACCT) and this money is used for the benefit of the community. “A conservancy will be the most suitable institutional arrangment to empower the people of the Aus community to take ownership of their land and to make an almost fogotten dream a reality,” were remarks from Baisitse. Speaking at the same occasion, Govenor of the Karas Region David Boois noted that there has been susbstantial development at Aus. Like for instance the tarring of the road between Aus and Rosh Pinah, renovation of the Bahnhof Hotel, expansion of the Desert Horse Inn Lodge Klein Aus Vista and the building of the railway line between Aus and LÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¼deritz. However, despite these developments Aus still remains one of the poorest communities in Namibia. The opening of the information tourist centre at the town is therefore seen as timely. “It directly responds to the lack of sufficient information which exists in southern Namibia. We need more such information centres to make southern Namibia more attractive as a tourist destination,” said Boois. In order to increase the flow of travellers the south needs to continue to make itself more attractive, among other things with more information centres like the one in Aus, Boois stated. “To make these information centres sustainable, we must add value-adding products such as service stations, nurseries, coffee shops, souvenir shops and the likes. These initiatives will make (places like) Aus attractive such that visitors will no longer rush through but have a reason to stay in the south,” explained Boois. As tourist locations, he mentioned the Quiver Tree Forest north of Keetmanshoop, the Fish River Canyon and Noordoewer, besides the whole of the south. Boois also handed over the land lease agreeement to the ACCT. Currently, approximately 30 000 travellers pass through Aus every year and the opening of the information centres can reap great benefits for the community. Over 200 residents of Aus, as well as high-ranking guests from LÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¼deritz, Rosh Pinah, Keetmanshoop and Windhoek were entertained with horse-riding and a performace by the majorettes of Marmar Orimary School.
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