GOVERNMENT has put together a task team to deal with negative international publicity surrounding Namibia's annual seal cull and its effect on tourism, especially the country's chances to host the Adventure Tourism World Summit (ATWS) next year.
Namibia is one of three countries shortlisted to host the global event, which is expected to lure about 600 players in the adventure tourism industry to the country. Should Namibia be chosen, it will also be the first time the ATWS will take place in Africa.
However, shortly after the Adventure Travel Tourism Association (ATTA) sent its inspection team to Namibia in May, anti-sealing activists calling themselves Just for Seals Namibia launched a petition to get the body to reject the country's bid. By yesterday afternoon, 5 557 people around the globe had signed the petition.
At a meeting of the tourism industry on Monday, marketers voiced their concern about the anti-sealing campaign, set to start on July 15, and the impact it might have have on tourist bookings.
Gitta Paetzold, chief executive officer of the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN), yesterday told The Namibian that the consensus at the meeting was that Namibia needed a national strategy on the seal issue. "We all need to convey the same message," she said.
Paetzold said Namibia virtually has the ATWS in the bag, and that the seal controversy could be the "only negative".
Acting Permanent Secretary of Environment and Tourism Erica Akuenje scheduled the first meeting of the task force for yesterday afternoon. Although the seal cull doesn't fall under her Ministry, the seal issue is used to impact the tourism industry negatively.
Akuenje wasn't available for comment yesterday afternoon. The Ministry's director of tourism, Sem Shikongo, referred all questions to Akuenje and told The Namibian that it was an "an internal Government meeting".
Meanwhile, the anti-sealing activists are stepping their campaign. The Seals of Namibia on Wednesday appealed to its more than 4 000 supporters on its Facebook page to start tweeting Hollywood superstar Charlize Theron, who is currently filming 'Mad Max 4' in the Namibia Desert.
"Tweet something like this ... @charlizeafrica please be a voice for 85000 seal pups that will be clubbed to death in Namibia," the appeal suggests.
"If enough people can tweet her, maybe we can get her to see the tweet," it says, adding that "as everyone knows she is a huge animal lover".
In addition to the petition to boycott the ATWS, anti-sealing campaigners are also running other petitions, gaining support mainly through the internet.
By yesterday afternoon, more than 63 000 people had signed The Seals of Namibia's petition to stop the cull. In addition, 8 000 people have signed a petition to US President Barack Obama to stop giving Namibia money through the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
"To continue this funding, at the taxpayer's expense, is unconscionable," the petition reads.
Nearly 1 000 people have also signed a petition to boycott all Namibian products until the Government abolishes the annual seal cull.