Covid-19 offers opportunity for tourism

Chance to rethink and realign industry
Hospitality businesses and tour operators are still faced with low demand and severe uncertainties, two years after the first Covid lockdown.
Ellanie Smit
The local tourism and travel sectors, government and other stakeholders can and do wield the power to influence the development and future direction of tourism in Namibia.

While the pandemic has devastated the industry, Covid-19 offers an opportunity to rethink and possibly realign existing and planned tourism operations to be fundamental environmentally

sustainable and community centred.

This is according to a report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research that examined how Namibia’s tourism industry can recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The report, ‘Namibia’s Tourism Industry, Post-Covid Bounce Back, Gradual Recovery or Transformation?’, seeks to provide a broad overview of the pandemic’s impact on Namibian tourism and the industry’s response in mitigating its most harmful effects.

It pointed out that almost two years after the pandemic first began, hospitality businesses and tour operators continue to be faced with low demand and severe uncertainties in terms of future operations and revenue generation. “The devastating impact of Covid-19 on Namibia’s economic and social fabric cannot be underestimated.”

However, the report said it should also be acknowledged that the crisis arose on the back of an economic downturn and creeping depression that had been evident since the end of 2016 in Namibia, with tourism being one of the few consistently well-performing sectors left.

Catastrophic blow

An initial assessment report from the United Nations System (UNS), referencing information from the Namibian Statistics Agency, stated that the tourism sector suffered a catastrophic blow, with about 96.5% of businesses being adversely affected due to border closures, quarantine restrictions and fears surrounding virus contraction during travel, it said. “A particularly hard-hit sub-sector are the conservancies and the wildlife economy, which represent a considerable 20.3% of

employment in the tourism sector.” The UNS report also cited sources which estimated that the total income losses for the tourism industry may have reached N$2 billion in 2020.

In addition, the report raised particular concerns around the vulnerability of tourism-dependent businesses in communal conservancies, which are crucial for local employment opportunities and environmental protection. “Indeed, conservancies have little capacity to raise money when confronted with financial difficulties.”

It added that the Bank of Namibia reported that travel and passenger transportation services, which includes expenditure by travellers on accommodation, meals and local transport services, lost around N$3.2 billion in foreign currency earnings in 2020 alone. By comparison, these industry sub-sectors together accounted for earnings of N$5.1 billion in 2019. “While complete economic data for 2021 is not yet publicly available, it is clear that the second year of the pandemic did not lead to the scale of recovery the industry was hoping for,” the report said.

Hope

“Still, the industry appears to be cautiously optimistic, despite only recording an occupancy rate of 18.5% in January 2022, and other prevailing issues, the report said.

On a positive note, local tourist enterprises that managed to weather the Covid-19 storm so far should now be in a good position to reap benefits from the gradual recovery of the industry. “The demise of old businesses could also offer space and impetus for young entrepreneurs and external investors to enter the tourism sector and inject it with novel and dynamic ideas which will pay-off in the long-term.”