Eveline de Klerk
Swakopmund-Visa applications and their stringent requirements for foreign tour guides who visit Namibia with large groups of tourists is becoming a challenge and may be detrimental to the tourism industry.
The argument is that some of the requirements such guides have to abide by are too strict and expensive, while the process itself is too lengthy.
These were some of the concerns highlighted on Monday to Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta during a two-day workshop in Swakopmund on the economic contribution of tourism and funding that ended on Tuesday.
The workshop was attended by national tourism boards of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), as well as representatives of the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern African.
Some operators in the tourism industry said due to stringent visa requirements and a lengthy application process for foreign tour guides Namibia was losing out on the economic benefits tthat can be derived from such large contingents of enthusiastic tourists.
A tour operator from Swakopmund said that such groups normally want to explore the country for longer periods with the guidance of their own tour guide, which was understandable.
“However, it takes time for such tour operators to obtain a working visa, especially in Namibia for such, which results in them visiting other countries who do not even require such guides to have a work visa.
“We understand that the government wants to maintain jobs for our own people, but we must look at the broader picture and how much Namibia can benefit both economically and marketing-wise,” he said.
The managing director of Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Zelna Hengari, also expressed similar sentiments, saying that overseas groups that want to visit Namibia on numerous occasions complained about visa requirements and opted to visit other countries instead.
“Recently a group from Turkey that wanted to come to Namibia with their tour guide had to choose another holiday destination because of this. We really want to attract tourists from all over the world, thus we have to look into the visa issue as it is killing our market,” she said.
Responding to the concerns raised, Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta said that they are aware of the challenges faced by the local tourism industry in terms of visa requirements for tour guides, among others.
He said an inter-ministerial committee was established that consist of all relevant stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration, to look at such challenges and propose solutions.
“This committee already had its first consultative meeting and we expect to get a positive outcome to address these issues as soon as possible,” Shifeta said.
Tourism in Namibia is a major industry, contributing N$7,2 billion to the country’s gross domestic product yearly.
Annually, over one million travellers visit Namibia, with roughly one in three coming from South Africa, then Germany and finally the United Kingdom, Italy and France.
Namibia is among the prime tourism destinations in Africa and is renowned for its ecotourism and extensive wildlife. In 2010, Lonely Planet named Namibia the 5th best tourism destination in the world in terms of value.