Okahandja — Namibia reached a milestone of one million tourist arrivals in 2011, however, it is experiencing a negative downturn in its traditional markets.
Although official tourism statistics have not yet been released, Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) CEO Digu // Naobeb said tourists in German-speaking Europe, France, Italy and the United Kingdom have declined, while there is an upsurge in the neighbouring southern African region.
"A positive growth upswing is mostly experienced from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and surprisingly we have seen a large growth from North America," //Naobeb told journalists at a briefing held at a NWR resort outside Windhoek last Friday.
He said there is no scientifically proven research to establish why there is a negative growth in traditional markets.
"Such as the element of the Euro crisis that plays such a significant role because quite a number of people do not have enough income and they have reduced the number of long-haul holidays to a large extent. In addition, according to tour operators, there is still a perception that Namibia seems not to be pricing itself competitively, as compared to neighbouring countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
"We seem to be a bit on the expensive side, even though foreign currencies such as the British Pound, Euros and US Dollars are declining. So there are some elements of worrying signals that we need to possibly see how best we could be working on those things and address them," he said.
As a consequence, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism is currently conducting an exit survey, talking to tourists as they depart to find out how they have spent, what are their impressions about the country, the standards of services and accommodation, as well as their recommendations.
"So that they can get the gist of the issues because most of them are underlying issues," the NTB head said.
A shift in consumer preferences has also been observed, where normally large groups of tourists using big buses have declined from 35-seater busses to minibuses with smaller groups of 12 to 14 people. "But they are high-yield travellers, spending huge amounts of money," //Naobeb added.
In addition, self-drive tours have increased, where travellers are using self-equipped and contained cars with roof tents. "So people have downgraded to affordable forms of travel and in the meantime, car rentals are doing very well, as they have to import more vehicles from South Africa," he added.
//Naobeb said the 2012 room occupancy figures showed an upward trend until September, compared to 2011.
"But it is predominantly ... carried by Namibians who are travelling within their own country," he noted.
//Naobeb said industry players are of the opinion that these Namibian travellers are not people with disposable income, but government officials that are on official duty. "But there is certainly an increase in terms of Namibian domestic tourism over the past five years," maintained the CEO of NTB.
A few years ago, Namibia started with an initiative to promote domestic tourism.
"We are also mindful of the fact that bigger companies such as the NWR resorts, Gondwana Collections and many others have come on board to honour our campaign to give specials to Namibians. Soon there will be a number of special offers for Namibians, to entice them to travel in their country," the NTB head revealed.
"We know when we look at especially, beyond Etosha, mainly in the four central-northern regions, that hardly any international tourists travel through there but quite a number of new accommodation establishments have been opened, particularly in Ondangwa, Ongwediva and Oshakati," he added.
In terms of the information that they have, //Naobeb said about 90 percent of people visiting the four northern regions are Namibians, who are using their own facilities, as opposed to international tourists.
"That already tells you in a nutshell that when people are going for weddings and funerals they do make use of these types of facilities," he was of the opinion.
He also encouraged newcomers in the tourism industry or previously disadvantaged Namibians to consider catering for the domestic market, rather than targeting international tourists only.
"Targeting international travellers is a very expensive start for new entrants, in terms of marketing efforts, which are very expensive, while they could benefit from local travellers," he offered.