Tourism hit hard by ­coronavirus

12 March 2020 | Tourism

The Namibian tourism market is already feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with the Italian market having collapsed completely and the Chinese market at a standstill.

There have also been major cancellations by other international travellers since February.

The CEO of the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) Gitta Paetzold told Namibian Sun that the impact of the coronavirus on the tourism industry is much harsher than anyone had anticipated a few weeks ago. Paetzold said a meeting with tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta was scheduled for yesterday afternoon at which HAN would raise the concerns of the tourism industry. Among the topics for discussion were the country's readiness to deal with a possible outbreak, as well as the level of vigilance at air and seaports.

“Most discussions among tourism stakeholders revolve around how we should deal with cancellations. Do we change our cancellation policies to encourage people to keep booking; or do we encourage people to postpone their trips rather than cancel?

“On the other hand, how do we as a sector prepare ourselves for the situation - is there a need to step up basic hygiene and sanitation, do we train our staff on more intense cleanliness?”

Paetzold said the answer to most of these questions is yes. “We will and yes, we are.”

According to her, globally the tourism sector has seen a 33% decline in bookings and up to 80% decline in business in some tourism hotspots.

She said luckily for Namibia it is currently the tourism low season, but the sector has nevertheless seen major cancellations.

This mainly included group travel between February and June and even into July.

“Our Italian market, a source market of growing importance to Namibia, has collapsed completely, given the travel ban of Italy, while the small, but promising Chinese travel market has also almost come to a halt.”In 2018, the latest available statistics, Namibia received 14 016 Italian arrivals and 14 840 Chinese arrivals.

Paetzold said coupled with this the business tourism sector has also seen a huge decline with major companies cancelling conferences and business meetings. In 2018 Namibia received a record number of 1.659 million foreign arrivals. Of these, 1.557 million were tourists, while 191 613 were business travellers.

“What is absolutely key in this situation is cooperation and collaboration, not only within the sector, such as service providers and the tour operators, but close synergy with the authorities too, and for this reason,” said Paetzold.

She further stressed that what is most important is to ensure that Namibia acts wisely and considers all consequences before making any decision on control measures to curb the spread of the virus.

Paetzold said HAN was delighted at the news that all suspected coronavirus cases here in Namibia have so far tested negative.

ELLANIE SMIT

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