After suffering a dramatic setback in 2009 and 2010, the tourism sector has bounced back as an important economic driver. Many of these benefits go to some of the most remote communities and as such, constitute their only source of regular income.
The tourism sector is the second highest contributor to the Gross Domestic Product after mining and many local communities have benefited from this contribution. Many factors attributed to the increase in tourism industry include higher numbers of tourists visiting the country as well as the increase of conservancies.
As one of only a few countries in the world with conservation and environmental management mandated in the Constitution, Namibia's approach to conservation is holistic and inclusive both in terms of maintaining ecological integrity and protecting the right of communities to benefit from its natural resources.
Wildlife is considered to be the basis of a new rural economy that is creating jobs and providing direct benefits to communities that have chosen to live in harmony with it. Through conservancies, previously disadvantaged communities have a voice in the management and benefits of living with wildlife and have set a global example for environmental stewardship.
According to Ted Martens, Sustainability Director at Natural Habitat Adventures, through innovative partnerships between government, local communities and the travel industry, unique management structures have been created. "This allows rural Namibians to benefit significantly from tourism in their regions by way of skills training, jobs and direct financial contributions. As a result, people in these communities have tangible reasons to support wildlife conservation. This progressive form of community-integrated tourism is changing lives, protecting animals and establishing Namibia as a leader in sustaQinable tourism," said Martens. One major achievement to have benefited the tourism sector is the country's successful bid to host the 2013 Adventure Travel World Summit which will be held in Swakopmund in October 2013 and will attract over 700 international travel delegates. Globally recognised as a leader in community-based conservation, Namibia has garnered such prestigious recognition as the 2012 Markhor Award for Outstanding Conservation Performance in recognition of its exceptional wildlife conservation programme.
"To date, there are 71 communal conservancies in Namibia. Combined with existing private reserves and national parks, a staggering 42% of Namibia's land is now under conservation management. Since 1998, when the first conservancies were established, income in rural areas has risen from close to nothing to over US$6 million annually, the majority of which is generated from tourism activities," Martens emphasized.