That the tourism sector has been the hardest-hit by travel restrictions, closed borders and lockdowns to curb the spread of Covid-19 worldwide is a well-known fact.
In February 2021, the Bank of Namibia said the industry has lost N$3.2 billion and 70% of businesses in the travel sector recorded less than 10% of normal bookings.
Namibia recorded 192 026 foreign arrivals last year, of which 169 565 were registered as tourists, which showed a decline of 89.4% in comparison to that of 2019, according to the Annual National Tourists Arrival Statistics report released by the government on Wednesday.
Only about 60 000 international tourists arrived between September 2020 and March 2021.
This week, tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta once again pleaded with the sector to pivot to the Namibian market.
Tourism’s importance to the country, generating income and jobs for Namibians and earning the country foreign exchange cannot be overemphasised.
However, the sector has for far too long been in the hands of a wealthy few, mainly non-Namibians. The sector is blighted with anomalies that if occurred in other sectors would be frowned upon.
Prices at lodges have always only been fit for the European middle class. Some of these establishments have remained largely unknown and out of reach for even the wealthiest of Namibians.
Even when Namibian Wildlife Resort (NWR) offers massive discounts, the way the deal is structured still makes it unaffordable.
Foreign tour guides have for long dominated that space. Imagine a South African tour guide showing off Namibia’s attractions to Chinese tourists, staying in mainly German-owned lodges being cooked for by an Italian chef.
So, very little of the money stays in circulation in the country. Would it be tolerated in any other country or any other sector? On top of that, the treatment Namibian workers receive at some of these lodges is terrible.
There’s also an oversupply of lodges, stemming from white-owned farms refusing to sell to government’s land acquisition programme and instead turning farms into guest farms and lodges when farming in Namibia becomes too tough for the owners or the wealthy white heirs simply want to have a weekend farm for their leisure.
To exacerbate the struggles of the industry, the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB), mandated to promote the country’s tourism “both internationally and locally”, has remained ineffective through under funding and questionable decision-making. They have also largely ignored promoting to locals.
It also doesn’t help the industry that historic attractions under the state-owned enterprise, NWR, are being run poorly with basics like cleaning of the facilities being neglected.
It is high time to not only make it more affordable for Namibians but to fully Namibianise the industry.
We can’t continue to be happy with only the meagre paying jobs at the lowest end of the spectrum in an industry that is all about the beauty and splendour of Namibia and its people.
But when disaster strikes and the foreign tourists fountain dries up, it is the very Namibian taxpayer whom these institutions shun that they run to for a bail out.