TOURISM
TOURISM

Fears over new visa regime

• New visa rules potential blow to tourism
Cabinet has granted authorisation to the home affairs ministry to introduce stricter visa entry requirements that will affect 31 countries, including Germany, a major tourism market for Namibia.
Ellanie Smit,Ogone Tlhage
A Cabinet decision to impose stricter visa requirements on nationals from countries that require costly and lengthy visa applications for Namibians has faced fierce criticism amid concerns it will impact the tourism sector.

In a statement issued by the home affairs ministry last week, it was stated that Cabinet had “granted authorisation to the ministry of home affairs to introduce an entry visa requirement to countries that have not reciprocated the favourable treatment granted to their nationals when visiting Namibia.”

It added that government has now “deemed it necessary to implement a visa requirement to ensure parity and fairness in diplomatic interactions.”

‘Negative impact’

Reacting to the decision, Nathaly Ahrens of the Tour and Safari Association said the country is reliant on foreign exchange earnings to spur economic growth.

“Namibia's economy relies heavily on its currently thriving tourism sector, which is a major employer, foreign exchange earner and contributor to what little economic growth there is. The imposition of tourist visa requirements on many countries can have a severe negative impact on this vital sector, as it may deter potential visitors from the affected countries and could lead to a significant decrease in tourist arrivals,” Ahrens said.

The measures will make Namibia a less attractive destination, Ahrens argued.

“Many of the targeted countries have been key source markets for our tourism sector and this move will only serve to alienate them and drive them to other more visa-friendly destinations. Some of our regional partners, like Botswana and South Africa, will have fewer visa restrictions. By introducing unnecessary obstacles, Namibia makes itself less attractive, not only on a global level, but also regionally,” she said.

Constructive dialogue

Business lobby group, the Economic Policy Research Association (EPRA), said Cabinet should have engaged the respective countries and should reconsider the decision.

“EPRA calls upon the Namibian government to reconsider its decision and engage in constructive dialogue with non-visa reciprocating countries to resolve the underlying issues. By working together to address concerns and fostering a more cooperative approach, Namibia can protect its vital tourism sector and maintain its strong ties with key source markets,” its spokesperson, Eben De Klerk, said.

“EPRA therefore strongly urges government to adopt a pro-business, best practice, evidence-based approach when it comes to policy formulation and implementation, rather than recycling half-truths and disinformation for political expediency, which can only lead to economic ruin,” he added.

Important markets

The move would further impact tourism arrivals from foreigners keen to visit Namibia.

“It is unfortunate from a tourism point of view that visa restrictions [will be] implemented on our biggest source market to Namibia, being Germany, and most of the other European countries. The statement is not clear if visitors from these countries will have to apply online first and then get the visa on arrival or whether it will be an either-or situation,” De Klerk said.

Simonis Storm, in a recently released tourism bulletin, said many of Namibia’s tourism arrivals were from European Union countries.

“Most visitors to Namibia were from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, accounting for 38% of tourists. Locals followed with the highest occupancy rates at 19.1%, though this was a drop from 27.1% in March. Visitors from France made up 8% of tourists, and those from South Africa comprised 6.9%. The substantial influx of tourists from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland can be attributed to direct flights from Frankfurt to Windhoek and a favourable exchange rate that enhances their spending power,” Simonis Storm said.

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