Windhoek-President Hage Geingob on Friday did not mince his words towards service providers in the tourism industry who do not welcome tourists and customers in a friendly manner.
“You are running hospitality not hostility. When you come at the airport, people are not smiling. Tourists travelled ten hours on a flight, they want to be welcomed friendlily. When airlines come here, people get discouraged because the queues are too long and the bad terminal,” he said.
Geingob, who officially inaugurated the more than N$50-million Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) building on Friday, said unfriendliness chases investors away – when employees in the hospitality industry are not welcoming.
Geingob also noted that the service culture in Namibia is generally poor, whether it is within the government or the private sector.
He urged service providers and civil servants to offer services with a smile always, since people are paying to get such services.
He blasted restaurant employees who he says have a tendency of making customers wait for hours before serving them.
Geingob said the nation is amid a difficult period economically, where financial headwinds have forced the government to downscale some of its plans.
However, he noted this period also offers an opportunity to develop innovative and prudent mechanisms for dealing with national developmental efforts.
Therefore, instead of lamenting the fact that budgets are limited, Geingob urged, everyone should rededicate their commitment towards greater efficiency and effectiveness to tackle the challenges facing the country. In the tourism sector there are several, he said, which include access to finance to ensure investment in tourism infrastructure.
He also singled out a lack of a national marketing strategy to penetrate national, regional and international markets aggressively and strategically.
Further, he highlighted land tenure concerns and lack of a competitive service culture.
Barriers to business development such as high transaction cost in doing business in Namibia, lack of serviced land and conflicting and non-synergised and harmonised sectoral policy and legislation are some of the other challenging areas he mentioned.
“If one carefully analyses these challenges, one realises that the solution does not always lie in increased funding, but it lies in an improved attitude, work ethic and coordination between stakeholders,” Geingob said.
He added that tourism is recognised as the most competitive industry globally and has demonstrated its ability to contribute to the higher development goals of governments through its multiplier effect.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, the year 2016 represented the seventh consecutive year in which the sector recorded growth since the 2009 global financial crisis.
This means that in 2016, 300 million more international tourists travelled the world.
Geingob noted this consistent global growth has paid off for Namibia as well, with the Hospitality Association of Namibia announcing that 2016 was one of the most successful and positive tourism years in the country’s history, resulting in a 60 percent occupancy rate for accommodation establishments throughout the year.
In fact, he said, the Namibian tourism sector was the only sector that grew in the last financial year, while other sectors experienced contraction.
He explained that financial headwinds have stifled the government’s plans to expand the sector, resulting in a limited budget allocation and leading to a delay in eliminating existing barriers within the sector.
Over the past five years, he said, the government has re-evaluated its approach towards tourism by embarking on an exercise to identify the challenges, barriers and other growth-inhibiting factors that are hindering the tourism sector from expanding.
He said awareness of these challenges alone will not enable the government to mitigate them – instead he suggests what is needed is the implementation of processes, systems and the capacitation of institutions that will enable the government to effectively address any growth-inhibiting factors.