Stars Set to Spoil Tourists

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NAMIBIA’S unspoilt beauty, wide open spaces and unique landscapes are soon to be the 5-star attraction of a new target – the upmarket tourist with money. With a multi-million joint venture between Ohlthaver & List and IFA Hotels & Resorts Limited, the stage is set for the utmost in comfort and luxury the Namibian tourism market is yet to offer. The reason for the bold move to enter a new era of luxury tourism is actually a very simple one. Sven Thieme, executive chairman of Ohlthaver & List explains: “Five stars is still an oddity in Namibia. If we don’t have a five-star hotel in the country, how can we expect to attract five-star tourists? It all boils down to getting the up-market worldwide tourist, the one with money, to spend time in Namibia.” According to Thieme, the agreement would contribute to business growth which in turn would support Namibia’s socio-economic wealth as well as living conditions. “I always use a shopping centre as metaphor when comparing Namibia with other countries. The anchor tenant attracts all the people. If we have five star-facilities in Namibia, the smaller groups will benefit. Five-star tourists will come to Namibia and visit all the smaller tourist institutions, for example quad bikes and street markets.” The involvement of the Namibian contingent in the strategic partnership between Ohlthaver & List and IFA Hotels & Resorts is vital. “We want the Namibian people to be part of the deal,” says Thieme. “From the Namibian point of view there is acceptance and we play the role of the local part.” Namibians will reap the benefits of the multi-million dollar venture. “If you think of all the things tourists do in Windhoek like dining in restaurants and buying souvenirs at street markets, I think the smaller groups will benefit more than us if you think of the risks we take.” The seed for a turning point in Namibia’s tourism offerings was planted many months ago with dreams to turn the Strand Hotel in tourist hotspot Swakopmund into a star attraction. Costing however revealed that a cool N$100 million to N$120 million was needed to get the project off the ground. It was then that Ohlthaver & List realised it needed a partner to turn their dreams into reality. “We realised we didn’t have a proper marketing plan or brand behind the project. We needed a partner to take on the venture.” The company started to investigate different possibilities. Enter IFA Hotels & Resorts Limited, South Africa, an affiliate of IFA Hotels & Resorts, Kuwait, listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and owner of among others the exclusive Zimbali Lodge. A professional presentation in Dubai was followed up by an eight-week visit and the wheels were set in motion for the dawn of a new era in Namibian tourism. “They were very impressed by Namibia and are keen and eager to start. And most importantly they are experts in development and bring major credibility to the new venture,” explained Thieme. The joint venture boasts development projects valued at about N$550 million with the Namib Sun-portfolio of Ohlthaver & List given a luxurious upgrade to 5-star status. Joining the revamp is the world- renowned Kempinsky Hotel group, who will take over the management of the first four hotels and lodges to be upgraded. Sharing a similar sense of pride and heritage, this partnership is a sure fit. “The group has a huge heritage. We’ve met with them and they are absolutely great people with a lot of experience. Ohlthaver & List also has a lot of heritage, things we are very proud of. Kempinsky is similar in that way and that is why it just feels right,” says Thieme. With Namibia a proven attraction for tourists from Germany and Europe where the Kempinsky hotels are well known, its familiarity to the European tourist and the fact that it “is so German-based” was the last stamp of approval needed to help put five-star Namibian luxury on the worldwide tourism map. Bringing with them a wealth of skills and expertise, the Kempinsky group will in their day-to-day management have the right to appoint personnel. “It is safe to say there is a commitment to accommodate all the current staff members that are willing to work as five-star staff. Every staff member will be interviewed and an analysis will be done in terms of training. People will come in to do training and some of the staff will be taken to five-star hotels to get trained.” The four projects to get the five-star treatment include the construction of a new hotel in Windhoek, the replacement of the Strand Hotel in Swakopmund with one way more luxurious, the upgrade of Mokuti Lodge near the Etosha National Park as well as the extension of King’s Den on the banks of the Chobe River. All upgrading will be done by local contractors. The construction of the Windhoek hotel as well as upgrades to Mokuti Lodge, are set to start this year, while King’s Den has to be completely rebuilt after it was damaged by the recent Zambezi floods.