Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the global tourism industry has suffered tremendously with the number of international and regional tourists dwindling to zero. In this regard, the state-owned tourism company, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, was not spared the devastating consequences of a global pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns and restrictions.
As a mitigation measure and to right-size the organisation, NWR offered its staff voluntary separation packages, of which a total of 123 out of 724 employees accepted these packages as of 31 December 2020.
Due to some further interest, the NWR board approved the further extension of the voluntary separation offer to staff that had shown interest but could have missed the first deadline. For this reason, NWR extended the voluntary separation package offer from 1 March until 31 March 2021.
Responding to questions from New Era, NWR’s MD Matthias Ngwangwama, explained that the organisation had a high staff profile in the past. For instance, the total NWR employees three years ago, as of 31 October 2018, was about 907.
“In recent years, particularly in 2020, with the outbreak of Covid-19, NWR significantly reduced its staff number by about 20%. Hence, the total staff profile as of 28 February 2021 was 724,” said Ngwangwama. He continued that NWR’s occupancy rates have also fallen dramatically from 49% during the 2018/2019 financial year to a mere 21% during 2019/2020.
When asked what strategies NWR has employed to ensure its longevity, Ngwangwama said over the past year, a number of activities were undertaken.
“The first activity we engaged in was signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Napwu (Namibia Public Workers Union) on a host of measures aimed at safeguarding the business,” Ngwangwama explained.
Some of the significant concessions NWR and Napwu agreed upon included the suspension of salary increases for the 2019/20 financial period; suspension of normal overtime, Sunday and public holidays payments with effect from 27 March 2020; suspension of acting allowances; placing a moratorium on external recruitments to ensure a stable wage bill; minimising the use of legal representations in labour cases concerning internal disciplinary hearings and conciliation/arbitration disputes; and encouraging early retirement for employees who are 55 years and above, as per current company practice.
Said Ngwangwama: “Equally, when the pandemic emerged, we were the first organisation to offer our establishments to the government as isolation facilities, which we must say was not an arrangement most tourism companies were looking at during that period. Additionally, we paid special attention to the domestic market, which resulted in us offering them a discounted rate of N$600 per room from May up until September 2020, where we re-introduced our domestic rates that were significantly discounted from our normal rack rates. Through these efforts, we were able to keep the business going and provide a much-needed service to the nation. We also launched a new tour package that we envision will be a cornerstone of our future.”
The NWR MD continued that from a policy perspective, NWR will continue to look at reducing its wage bill to a manageable state.
“We will equally look into enhancing our Tour Planning department due to the opportunities we see in this area. Also, we are upgrading and updating some of our facilities, such as Halali, Okaukuejo, Mile 108, to be in a better position to serve our local clients. Our recently opened-up Hospitality Institute (NWR Hi) will play an integral role in capacitating our staff members to achieve these milestones,” Ngwangwama concluded.