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Covid-hit tourism sector hopes for revival

2020-06-25  Edgar Brandt

Covid-hit tourism sector hopes for revival
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The largest public tourism operator, the Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR), as well as the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) have welcomed the tourism revival initiative set to take place between 15 July and 15 August 2020.
Both institutions see tourism as an opportunity to position Namibia, endowed with unique and a variety of game, as the ideal African destination post-Covid-19.

The sector has been hit hard everywhere due to prolonged lockdowns and severe travel restrictions globally. 
The country’s tourism, which is considered by many as one of the key economic sectors, is estimated to contribute as much as 15% to the country’s GDP and provides direct income for over 100 000 Namibians. 
“We are aware from our partners in Europe especially that there is still keen interest in Namibia. This country has not lost its appeal as a travel destination. 

“On the contrary, we believe Namibia is an ideal post-Covid destination, given its wide open spaces, where social distancing comes naturally; our sparse population, sunshine in abundance and our existing links and partnerships,” stated the CEO of HAN, Gitta Paetzold.  
Responding to questions from New Era, Paetzold confirmed that quite a number of tour operators are holding bookings for July and August, which she said travellers are keen to honour, pandemic restrictions permitting.  

Similar to the domestic tourism promotion here in Namibia in May, HAN views the tourism revival initiative as a perfect opportunity for the country to put to the test the new norms and national tourism protocols launched recently by the Namibia Tourism Board.
These protocols have been designed to guide the tourism industry in setting itself up according to Covid norms, in terms of social distancing, increased hygiene to ensure de-risking the sector and providing the safest possible environment. 
HAN feels the tourism revival initiative will also instil confidence locally as well as reflect positively on Namibia as an ideal post-Covid international destination.

“Also, we are aware of keen interest of certain airlines ready to re-schedule the links between Europe and Windhoek, so the infrastructure and interest is there. It would be naïve, however, to expect a full stream of travellers to emerge as there is general hesitancy, fear of the unknown and a financial impact globally that will affect leisure travel,” said Paetzold. 
She continued that from the outset it was very encouraging to see that the Presidency directly addressed the needs of the tourism industry and granted special opportunities to investigate a gradual recovery. 

 “This is in line with the submissions and proposals that we as private sector have made to our leaders, suggesting that initially Namibia may be advised to consider bilateral agreements with destinations of choice that would allow for an effective and carefully considered re-start of tourism flow, ideally with our key source market, to which direct air links already exist, as well as a sizeable market and interest that could bring together a number of visitors to make such an effort worthwhile,” she said. 
“Needless to say, a bilateral agreement calls for both sides to make input and lay the groundwork and parameters, hence the need for a multi-sectoral and all-of-government approach to this initiative,” she stated. 

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has severely hit global and domestic tourism the hardest as an international travel ban basically put a 100% halt on any activity in the money-spinning sector.  
In addition, en masse cancellations were received as early as January, combined with the uncertainty of the future of global travel, which made it virtually impossible to plan ahead.   “But it is vital that we put all mechanisms in place to allow for a good recovery, careful, considerate, but with meaning. For that we would ideally need an ‘all-of-government-approach’ in terms of investment in a concerted national destination marketing campaign for Namibia, ensuring a conducive environment in terms of access through attractive visa regimes (relaxation, extension of visa duration, etc.), to put Namibia in focus across the world,” stated Paetzold. Meanwhile, the NWR emphasised that the impact of Covid-19 cannot be reversed in a short period and concurred that opening up the local market is more about creating confidence within specific tourism markets. 

According to NWR spokesperson, Mufaro Nesongano, Namibia is a remarkable and competitive tourist destination due to its comparative advantages, including its wide-open spaces with spectacular landscapes, abundant wildlife resources, diversity of experiences, excellent infrastructure, security, peace and stability and low population densities. 
“Namibia has a growing global reputation as a premier destination for ecotourism. We, therefore, believe that international travellers will see an opportunity to take up this offer based upon the information we have been receiving from our tour operators,” he said.
“We must mention that the efforts that the government has made to put Namibian lives first have resulted in many countries commending our efforts towards mitigating the spread of Covid-19. Therefore, this will provide international travellers with the confidence needed of their well-being when they visit us.”

He added that the tourism revival initiative is an important step towards finding a new normal in how travel will occur for the foreseeable future.  
To put the impact of the pandemic into perspective, since the national lockdown was lifted NWR’s occupancy has been averaging around 10%, compared to 53% during the same time last year. 
There is no doubt that the emergence of Covid-19 has severely affected the cashflow of all tourism operators and affiliates. 
Before the emergence of the pandemic, Namibia’s tourism sector was looking at improving on the gains made during 2019. However, since the state of emergency, the sector has had to do more with less to survive. 

“However, ever since the lockdown was lifted and domestic travel was permitted, we saw some interest from the local market with the N$600 per room special that we have been running. We, however, continue to ask the local market to support NWR as their national asset. Though, it must be noted that domestic tourism alone cannot fully carry the company and that the international market is still a vital element to run a feasible tourism business,” Nesongano concluded.   – 

2020-06-25  Edgar Brandt

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