Towards creating a regional tourism bubble
11 September 2020 | Columns
The grand dream of inviting wealthy international tourists to Namibia is still being dreamed. The vision of hundreds or even thousands of wealthy international guests spending their bounteous euros or dollars at luxurious game ranches and five-star hotels still hasn't materialised, but we hope for the best.
The obstacles, however, are steep. Apart from the logistics of ensuring these wealthy guests are whisked with ease through the current Khomas lockdown area it also presumes that there are thousands of such guests willing to not only travel the 12 000 km or more to far-off Namibia, but also with surplus money to pay for local transport, tour guides, accommodation, food and drink.
And, unfortunately, there don't yet seem to be regulatory nods from European governments. The UK, for instance, has to date not yet declared Namibia a safe destination for its citizens. And, even if it did, UK travellers have been burned recently with several policy about-turns where permission was granted for UK travellers to visit certain European destinations such as Spain or Greece, but who, after departing on their holidays, were then told (often with just a few hours' notice) that permission had been denied, and they would have to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the UK. Receiving such news, when relatively close to home, is one thing. Being 12 000 km away is another.
Meanwhile, the Namibian tourism industry has had to do a quick re-evaluation in order to survive, and promoting local Namibian tourism, thus far, has been the only option. Even that has been difficult, with the country's major destination (Erongo) having being sealed off from the rest of the country for many months. And now that Erongo is again open, residents of Windhoek, the nation's capital, are being denied their opportunity to visit the coast.
Nevertheless, Swakopmund tourism has rapidly adapted, and the numerous cars visiting from places such as Tsumeb, Grootfontein or Ondangwa are a healthy indication that inland travellers are again supporting the coastal tourism industry.
The luxurious Strand Hotel has, unlike others, managed to keep its doors open during these challenging times, and has come up with creative offers to entice local guests such as beachfront kapana for N$10, and rooms (including all meals and drinks) for less than N$1 000 a night.
Even the isolated and unique Shipwreck Lodge, which until recently was charging N$26 538 per night (www.tripadvisor.com) is now (September 2020) offering special packages for just N$3 500.
However, between the dreams of wealthy international tourists and the reality of persuading Namibians to explore their own country, there lies another tourism market, right on our doorstep. There are tens of thousands of Namibians with family links to our fellow SADC countries such as Zimbabwe, Angola and South Africa. And there is a reciprocal interest from residents of these countries to visit Namibia. Such visits are an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends, but also provide an opportunity on all sides for the tourism industry to receive a much-needed boost.
South African tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane has spoken of the prospect of creating a 'regional travel bubble', with the reopening of regional borders.
Opening up links to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Harare and Luanda will, of course, provide an immediate boost for the airline industry, and Air Namibia can start servicing those routes again from the Windhoek and Walvis Bay International Airports. The impact will of course also be felt amongst all of the ancillary services connected to those airports, including refreshments, baggage handling, ground services, taxi and shuttle services, etc.
Opening of land borders
Opening up land borders at Ariamsvlei and Noordoewer, Oshikango and Buitepos will have a similar impact, with hotels and guest lodges along these routes again welcoming overnight travellers, and restaurants and cafes opening their doors for hungry motorists looking for a breakfast and lunch stop on their long journeys. Plus, of course, the benefits for service stations and shops, often situated in isolated towns and settlements, who will again receive passing customers.
And the movement would not only be of Namibians wishing to travel, but tourists from our neighbouring countries again visiting Namibia.
Angolans visiting their siblings in Namibia, Zimbabweans visiting their children, and South Africans coming for a long-awaited opportunity to see their grandchildren again.
Plus, of course, the hundreds of anglers who love to travel to Erongo to experience the unique Skeleton Coast fishing, as well as lovers of our desert who arrange trips in their 4X4 vehicles.
Of course, the immediate concern for all SADC countries would be the issues of health, and, before any leisure travel is allowed either in or out of Namibia, modalities would have to be put in place to ensure that all travellers are thoroughly tested, with the necessary certificates to ensure that they are free of Covid-19. For Namibians this would probably be both on departure and on return.
But the benefits, for Namibian tourism, would be immense.
•Robin Tyson is a media consultant based in Swakopmund