Namibia has a wealth of cultural heritage resources but while some tour operators feature some sites, a heritage tourism programme has not yet been developed.
Despite the high potential of cultural and heritage tourism to contribute to national development, there is a lack of operational and promotional programmes about art, culture and heritage as well as inadequate physical infrastructure to mainstream the subsector into key economic rivulets such as tourism and leisure.
Domestic tourism could aid in stimulating the economy and has the potential to create jobs for locals, helping to alleviate poverty and the high level of unemployment.
This information is contained in a newly launched national strategy on sustainable heritage tourism development and employment creation opportunities at the community level (2020-2030), which is a joint national strategy between the education, arts and culture, as well as environment and tourism ministries to promote sustainable cultural tourism in Namibia.
To change the status quo on cultural heritage, both ministries agreed this would be achieved through robust marketing strategies that will change the mind and lifestyles of Namibians to appreciate their heritage and visit the sites designated as heritage sites, thereby creating new revenue streams for cultural tourism.
Culture and heritage tourism involve travel to sites that in some way represent or celebrate an area, community or people’s history, identity or inheritance.
Heritage attractions are typically divided into three categories: natural (landforms, rural scenery, flora and fauna); cultural (festivals, arts or crafts, traditional practices or products), and built (historic homes, monuments and industrial sites).
Additionally, the major issues identified in the report constraining the integration of culture into mainstream tourism development are poor infrastructure at key heritage sites; the inadequate mechanism for the generation of information, as well as the provision of appropriate cultural or heritage tourism products at key heritage sites.
Others are lack of technical and managerial skills to support the process of delivering cultural tourism products and information resources at heritage sites and multiple claims on limited resources by various stakeholders, resulting from unsettled disputes from weak governance mechanisms.
Over the past years, Namibia has seen an increase in the number of visitors at major rock-art sites such as Twyfelfontein, Spitzkoppe and Brandberg.
The increase in the number of visitors has been relevant in creating local empowerment and employment at the community level.
The Vision 2030, which aims to transform Namibia into an industrialised country, highlights culture through the National Development Plan (NDP5) as part of the crosscutting issues under social transformation and economic progression.
NDP5 estimates that 0.65% of the employed in Namibia have cultural occupations.
The same development plan indicates that the Namibian government endeavours that by 2022, Namibians will be empowered and have opportunities to participate in arts and culture, with the share of employment increasing to 2%.
Namibia currently has only two world heritage sites, namely Twyfelfontein, which was inscribed onto the world heritage list in 2007, and the Namib Sand Sea, which was inscribed in 2013.
Both these sites have outstanding universal value and currently act as magnets for Namibia’s tourism industry.
The Namibia Naukluft Park, in which the Namib Sand Sea is located, is the only coastal desert in the world that includes extensive dune fields.
Other significant sites that have been proposed on the UNESCO world heritage tentative list, because of their geology and geomorphological significant values, include Brandberg National Monument area; Fishriver Canyon; Welwitschia Plains; Benguela Current Marine Ecosystem sites; Etosha Pan; San Living Cultural landscape; Succulent Karoo Protected Areas and the Okavango Delta.
The environment and tourism minister, who jointly signed the national strategy with education minister Anna Nghipondoka, observed as currently practised, tourism operations threaten the integrity of Namibia’s vulnerable indigenous cultures and the environmental resources they provide.
Given the challenges faced by all nations today, particularly with the Covid-19 pandemic, both parties suggested it is important Namibia strengthens domestic tourism as an alternative revenue base for communities living in and around sites of cultural significance.