Travel bans are 'draconian'

Otis Daniels_Finck
Windhoek ∙ [email protected]

Tourism role-players have described the latest travel bans and restrictions as draconian and a killer of Namibia’s tourism sector, which may have catastrophic outcomes for the sector. Tourism cancellations began pouring in as soon as the UK placed Namibia back on its red list of stricter travel regulations, together with other Southern African countries, over fears regarding the new coronavirus variant, Omicron.

The CEO of the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN), Gitta Paetzold, said this came as a complete shock and is a killer for tourism. “We feel that the decision was taken too soon, without scientific evidence to prove that [the new strain] is deadlier. It may be more transmissible, but is it more deadly? We also do not even know if the virus originates from SA. It was only tested there first, so closing borders may be futile. What counts against our region is the low level of vaccination, this is where we need to put all effort and focus on at the moment.”

Namibia’s tourism sector had just started showing signs of recovery last month, which was the best month this year for tourism in Namibia, with an average occupancy rate of almost 34% across the country. CEO of the Namibia Tourism Board Digu //Naobeb said Namibia was on the brink of seeing signs of improvement in arrivals and forward bookings from international travellers. “Such positivism was on trajectory until March next year.” He said the travel bans may have catastrophic outcomes as businesses will lose hope and may eventually shut their doors, which will inevitably result in job losses. “And this cannot be contained unless some economic rescue deal is offered to keep the industry afloat for the short term.” //Naobeb added that the NTB still firmly believes that the government is able to pull out all the stops to safeguard the country with a continued decline in coronavirus cases. “European countries must not just make emotional blanket rulings and bans; they must look at each Southern African country on a case-by-case basis, as such approach is nothing less than draconian.”

Border closures

Angola became the first African country to announce border closures over the weekend, effective as of 1 December for travellers from seven African countries, including Namibia. The UK's decision on Friday to red-list Namibia followed an announcement by the SA government that a new variant of the coronavirus had been identified in the country. Soon after, countries such as the US, Germany, Israel, Singapore and Japan also announced travel bans. The UK, Germany, the US and Angola are all countries that fall in Namibia’s top ten tourist markets. The European Union has also announced travel restrictions to and from seven countries in southern Africa, including Namibia.

Spokesperson of the tourism ministry Romeo Muyunda described the situation as very unfortunate. “This is happening when the tourism sector was just starting to get its grip back after a long drought of now income. This is a setback in terms of what we have achieved so far. “Namibia has the necessary measures in place to ensure the safety of our tourists, however every country has a sovereign right to implement its own measures.” He said the ministry will engage with the international relations ministry on the matter.

Delphin Ilunga from Furaha Tours and Safaris said he had received booking cancellations until the end of December. “We already had cancellations and lodges that are already paid, so are the park entry fees. We do not know how the refund process will work, especially from the tourism ministry as they usually do not refund or transfer to other bookings.” He said they would only know in the next few weeks if it will be possible to rebook clients, as it all depends on when Namibia will be considered favourably again. Ilunga further explained that some people only have time for holidays during a certain period of the year. “Once that has passed, they may either postpone to the next year or cancel it altogether.”

Too hasty

Presidential press secretary Alfredo Hengari told Namibian Sun on Saturday that President Hage Geingob was in consultations with all line ministries to find a solution. Asked about South Africa’s comment that the travel bans are a “punishment”, Hengari stated: “We are not South Africa.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has cautioned countries against hastily imposing travel restrictions linked to the new variant of Covid-19, saying they should take a "risk-based and scientific approach". Currently Namibia has no reports of the new variant, but the ministry said it is closely monitoring the situation.