Eveline de Klerk
WALVIS BAY – Swakopmund and Walvis Bay tour operators working in the Sandwich harbour and surrounding areas say recent increases of park entrance fees are a setback for them, especially now that they are barely making ends meet. According to the tour operators, the environment and tourism ministry increased park fees by almost 100% in April this year. The operators yesterday met with the ministry and the representative of the Namibian Tourism Board (NTB) to discuss their challenges, including park entrance fees.
The adjusted fees range from N$10 to N$50 for Namibians, SADC tourists will pay between N$30 and N$60, and foreigners pay between N$40 and N$100 per person. Vehicles are charged N$50. Although the prices are relatively low, the tour operators say they hardly make enough to stay afloat as tourists are scarce due to Covid-19.
Kenneth Kapitako, owner of Sandwich Dune Tours and Safari, said in an interview shortly after the meeting that since last year, they had to do business differently due to the downturn experienced by the industry. He complained that the increase in park fees at this stage is not favourable for the industry, although it may seem little to the naked eye. “That is why we want the ministry to revert to the old prices, at least until Covid is over, as we barely make ends meet. A lot of tour operators have even closed down,” Kapitako stressed.
They also had to slash their prices, just to attract local tourists, and this also made business operations more challenging. He furthermore had to cut his prices by more than 40% to ensure that he attracts local clients as well. “Normally, we would charge N$1 300, but for the past couple of months, we charge around N$900 per person. From that money, we have to take into account our fuel expenses, refreshments as well as the park fees that we have to pay for the tourists, tour guides and the vehicles we use,” Kapitako explained.
Another tourist operator echoed similar sentiments, saying she had to retrench some of her staff as it simply did not make sense to operate in these challenging times. “Yes, the fees are little on the eye, but we are not making any profits at this stage. In some instances, we would only get eight people for a whole month on a reduced price. That same money goes towards the basic upkeep of the business,” she noted.
Nonetheless, the industry thanked Namibians for keeping them afloat during the challenging times. “Namibians really showed up for us. Had it not been for them who supported us, we would have closed by now,” the industry players said. Meanwhile, MET spokesperson Romeo Muyunda said the Namibian park fees are the lowest in SADC, and had last been increased in 2005.
“These fees should have been included in their total packages”, he added. Muyunda felt the tour operators are not paying for the fees, but that the tourists themselves are paying the fees. “We don’t charge them when they enter the parks, but we charge the tourists. They need to clarify this and arrange in advance for these fees and calculate it in their prices, instead of them paying it themselves,” he continued.