Rebirth planned for tourism sector

Otis Daniels_Finck
Swakopmund • [email protected]

About 18 months after the corona crisis brought the tourism industry to its knees, government is in the process of developing a Tourism Sector Recovery Plan. In the coming weeks, the first draft will be presented to all stakeholders nationwide.

The first such meeting took place in Swakopmund on Tuesday. After all input has been given, the plan will be submitted to cabinet with the aim of stimulating the sector.

“We don't have to beat about the bush. The consequences of the pandemic have been catastrophic,” said Sebulon Chicalo, Director of Tourism in the Ministry of Tourism (MEFT). According to him, the plan is set to be implemented from 2022 to 2024, as international organisations expect the industry to recover thereafter.

The plan lists five strategic interventions and 14 programs that government intends to implement. “Government can’t do this alone. We all need to take hands, because there will be many opportunities to restart and reboot the sector.”

One of the main focus areas lies in “aggressive international marketing” to attract tourists from new source markets - this is budgeted to cost N$100 million. Among the many interventions, government intends to attract more international airlines, market Namibia on international, well-known online platforms such as Netflix, and allow and facilitate ease of entrance for tourists.

In addition, customs and immigration officials are to be schooled in the areas of customer care and service, because “tourists have the first contact with immigration officers who also give the first impression.”

Destination Swakopmund

Another drastic change: Swakopmund or the central coast is set to become Namibia's tourism hub. Under the theme “Destination Swakopmund”, the aim is to encourage airlines to touch down in Walvis Bay instead of at the Hosea Kutako International Airport as a matter of urgency.

“Windhoek will remain Namibia's political capital, but Erongo will be the centre of tourism,” Chicalu said.

Another intervention is the modernisation for data collection, because “with decent statistics you can plan well”.

Chicalu criticized the fact that there are currently insufficient statistics on tourism. “Decent data is an endangered species in Namibia,” he said, citing the example that no authority can quantify Namibia’s domestic tourism market.

Chicalu also mentioned the KAZA transnational park a few times, saying the “rapid implementation of a cross-border visa (UniVisa)” and the expansion of the Mpacha airport at Katima Mulilo to an international airport would aid tourism. “If we don't act quickly, our neighbours (e.g. Botswana) will get the business,” he said.

The plan also lists initiatives to promote local and regional tourism, including cheaper entry fees to national parks and more. But, according to Chicalu, Namibia also wants to attract more high-end tourists.

“Rich tourists have money, but no time. We want to promote fly-in safaris more and, for instance, enable them to land directly in the Etosha National Park (near Okakuejo or Namutoni) in the future,” he said.

Chicalu also noted that the plan includes many political interventions, which need to be implemented with urgency. “These are unusual times, and we need to re-design ourselves a bit. We must think big. We cannot continue to go small.”