Coastal holiday-goers cautious

Tight budgets
Otis Daniels_Finck
Swakopmund • [email protected]

People are tired of Covid-19 and its associated challenges experienced over the last two years.

December holiday does provide an opportunity to forget and relax while enjoying the sun, sea and sand along Namibia’s coast, which is famous for being the ideal holiday destination.

There is a difference though to this year’s holiday mood at the coast, mostly because of money (due to Covid-19) – holiday-goers are spending carefully.

The ‘crowd’ is also very local, with many tourists from overseas, as well as Namibian neighbours, either not being able to come to Namibia because of restrictions, or first having to spend thousands of dollars on Covid tests before coming over for holiday, and therefore opting to stay at home.

The perception is the same in Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Henties Bay, although a little less so from the latter because it is still such a small localized economy.

Different vibe

Walvis Bay Tourism Centre’s Abigail Kandorozu said this year’s mood is not the same as previous years. “People are still enjoying the festivities, and are still keen to go to parties, travel and have fun, but there is a sense of caution,” she said.

She said that it was also mostly Namibians that were coming to the harbour town, and that most of the booking were for self-catering and bed and breakfast establishments. “The hotels are too expensive for the locals, and there are not many foreigners, so the smaller establishments are doing a little better,” she explained.

Bookings for adventure activities have also dropped significantly because locals rather do their “own thing” by going to the beaches, parks and fishing – accompanied by lots of braaing, she said.

Kandorozu pointed out that another main attraction for the town and its suburbs were the big, organized parties during this time of this year, but these have also scaled down, or not taking place.

Centre of attraction

Dunes Mall marketing coordinator Loerette Koen said the mall, which is one of Walvis Bay’s hot-spot business nodes, was busy, considering it is the ideal one-stop-venue for holiday-goers to get everything they needed. The general retailers are expected to do the best because people get most of the essentials from them. “We are quite happy with the traffic currently, but obviously all of us always believe we can do better. There is a holiday atmosphere, regardless of Covid,” she said. “We are definitely optimistic, and we have to remain positive in these times where there is so much negativity.”

Businessman and hotelier John Savva said Covid remains a “very sensitive issue”, even in the holidays, and that people should still be cautious in their activities. He said all businesses were under “severe pressure” to make up for their losses during the past two years. Savva emphasised that crucial to a successful festive season and holiday business, was service delivery by the local authorities. “This service delivery must remain efficient and of a high standard regardless of the pressures experienced during these times. The services are like oil to the gears of business,” he said.

Very quiet on the western front

According to Anett Kötting, the chairperson of the Hotel Association of Namibia’s Erongo chapter, “one can feel the coast is quieter”. “We are missing our tourists, especially our visitors from Botswana, and it’s all a matter of cost,” she explained. “Usually, we would see many big families coming from there, but now they have to do Covid tests when they come and go. This is thousands of dollars spent for a holiday that they have not even started. They would rather opt spending the holidays visiting their own country.”

Kötting said that many Namibians, who used to come to the coast during the December holidays are making use of the many “very cheap Black Friday specials” offered by a variety of organisations to attract business to lodges and parks elsewhere in Namibia.

She said many visitors are also opting to spend shorter holidays camping in tents, or staying at self-catering establishments. According to her, it is occupation currently at the coast was at about a third of its capacity as people would rather spend one night instead of three at any given establishment. “It’s obviously cheaper, but it also has a domino effect on downstream businesses who are bearing the weight of the economic impact of the pandemic,” according to her, making specific reference to restaurants, who were closed for long and who are looking forward to a bumper holiday before the quiet new year.

Kötting also reminded Namibians that they are the luckiest people in the world because no strict Covid measures are in place for the holidays. “We must not take it for granted and remain vigilant because if we are irresponsible, we will all feel it. So do the right thing,” she warned.

Fully booked

Swakopmund municipal bungalow camp manager Lukas Nghitaunapo said bookings at the camp looked “fine” until the new year. “We are fully booked for the next two weeks or, but most customers are locals. Those from Botswana and South Africa are very scarce because of Covid,” he said.

Paul Ndjambula, the president of the Swakop Business Chamber, said that large sporting events hosted at the coast recently, such as the Desert Dash, was good for local business as these events attracted a lot of people. “We were lucky with these large events, but then the people went home again. They do not stay and spend money. It is cheaper at home,” he said, adding that people are holding onto the money because of the uncertainties that still exist around the pandemic.

“A month ago, accommodation establishments were up to 80% booked, and then these bookings plunged with the announcement of Omicron. And it’s all locals now who must keep the economy afloat,” he said.

According to Ndjambula most money will be spent at supermarkets and that people would rather feast from home or at the beach than go to restaurants. People will also spend much less on extravagant Christmas presents. “What is becoming obvious is the human content of Christmas. Family and friends being together are more valuable than spending the little people have on arbitrary items for Christmas,” he said.

Business buzzing

As for Henties Bay, the town is buzzing at the moment, and there is definitely a holiday “vibe” according to local businessman Leon Krauze. “Everything is full, and we are busy. You must understand, Henties Bay is only so big, and it does not take much to fill us up, but I can certainly say that the holidays are here,” he said, admitting though that the past could have been visibly better than now.

The road linking Swakopmund and Henties Bay however used to have bumper-to-bumper traffic, which is not the case currently. People seem to stay where they are, and not travel too much between towns. “I guess it won’t be as crazy as always, but we are sure everyone will get a piece of the pie,” said Krauze.

Dalene Agenbag of Henties Bay Spar said “the holiday mood is right”, and while people are tired of Covid-19, they are trying to stick to the precautions.
“There is another mentality when it comes to spending. People are more selective. As to how it compares to the good old years, I cannot even remember what those years were like! People just want to relax and have everything normal again,” she said.