The tourism sector yesterday welcomed the Centres for Disease Control’s (CDC) decision to downgrade Namibia from Level 4 or “Very High Level of Covid-19” to Level 3 or a “High Level of Covid-19”.
Although the country remains on the CDC’s radar of nations with a high prevalence of the pandemic, tourism operators commended the move as a step in the right direction. “We are delighted by the news and the tourism industry is looking forward to receiving more visitors. The world is now unlocking more and more, specifically our biggest market of Europe – and the United States, our second biggest international market,” tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta told New Era.
He added the downgrade will definitely boost the domestic tourism market that has suffered severely since the outbreak of the pandemic. Shifeta added that he hopes by next year the domestic tourism industry would have rebounded completely to pre-Covid levels. The coronavirus outbreak severely affected Namibia, a popular tourism destination with over 1.6 million tourists visited Namibia in 2019.
The Bank of Namibia announced in February 2021 that the industry has lost N$3.2 billion and that 70% of businesses in the travel sector recorded bookings below 10% of normal bookings. By the end of the third quarter of last year, 64% of businesses reported a revenue loss of over 50%.
The second quarter of 2021 revealed a national average room occupancy of just over 23%, compared to almost 54% in the year 2019, the last normal year. The second quarter of 2020 report shows April to June, being the nearest to lockdown months (with travel bans in Namibia last year), an all-time low occupancy of barely 4.5%.
The downgrade was also welcomed by Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) as a positive step. “As an industry and, more specifically Namibia Wildlife Resorts Limited, we are grateful for this turn of events. This shows that the Namibian government’s efforts in the past two months greatly assisted in reducing Covid-19 transmissions. Furthermore, the CDC’s downgrade provides more incentives for international travel, especially those from the United States, to visit us,” said NWR spokesperson Mufaro Nesongano.
Meanwhile, the Tour and Safari Association of Namibia (Tasa) pointed out that for the past 15 months, the income from the sector has been negligible, except for a minimal amount of local travel, which they estimate makes up nearly 10% of the value of what international tourism would normally have done over the same period.
“International tourism started picking up over the festive season last year, but with the spike in Covid infections in Namibia, we have been listed as a ‘do not travel’ destination to a number of our key source markets. An update from the CDC with downgrading Namibia from level four to three really comes as good news to the industry. We are hoping that many of our other source markets would follow soon,” commented Mureal van Rooyen from Tasa.
She added that since the CDC gives specific travel advice for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, in light of this, Namibia can only benefit, as the industry can make use of these opportunities to secure international visitors.
“Downgrading Namibia to Level 3 would definitely help the industry to get international clients to reconsider and book their holiday to Namibia again. The industry, however, has made a plea to the health ministry to relook the current 72 hours PCR test regulation. This still has a huge impact on our industry. The requirement to have a test that is less than 72 hours from the time of taking the test to arriving in Namibia excludes all long-haul tourist source markets such as North America, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, etc,” said Van Rooyen.
The CDC’s website, however, still advises visitors to ensure they are fully vaccinated before travelling to Namibia.
“Unvaccinated travellers should avoid nonessential travel to Namibia. Because of the current situation in Namibia, all travellers may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19 variants,” reads the CDC website.
The CDC further advised all travellers to ensure they understand and follow all airline and destination requirements related to travel, testing, masking or quarantine, which may differ from US requirements.
“If you do not follow your destination’s requirements, you may be denied entry and may be required to return to the United States,” the CDC cautioned.
The centre also advised travellers returning to the US to get tested with a viral test three to five days after travel and to self-monitor for Covid-19 symptoms, isolate and get tested if symptoms develop.
Tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta