Namibia Economist (Windhoek)

7 December 2012

Namibia: 'Tour Guides Must Be Familiar With Truly Namibian Products'

People from all corners of the country have migrated to other towns in search of greener pastures. This trend has become more pronounced over time as people seek better jobs and opportunities.

Recently, the Economist caught up with a wood carver residing at the coast.

Immanuel Elias hails from Rundu and left home when he was a young adult four years after independence and has since been making a living from his wood work.

He said that he did wood carving from birth as his father was a carver and passed on the skills to his sons. Wood carving is Immanuel's vocation and ithas always been his only means of income.

He runs an informal stall at the Walvis Bay Waterfront and says that life as an SME is no easy task especially when there is no government intervention to help informal SME's.

With the number of tourists having gone down this year in comparison to last year, he said they are feeling this harsh blow as they depend on tourists for most of their sales. "Business is not going good this year, even last year August sales were better then that of 2012 August."

He said that although the busiest season comes before the holidays with tourists from Italy and Germany, the end of the year when thousands of South African tourists arrive, is equally important. Wood carving like many other businesses is seasonal, he said.

Immanuel and many other wood carvers walk a long distance every morning to get to their stall where they make and sell different art pieces from wood. He said that when they do not have sales for the day, they go back penniless. "The decline in tourism has affected us because this is all we do, we do not have any other means of income but this."

According to him, a small piece can take up to a day to complete whilst the big pieces can take up to three weeks.

Immanuel said that although the government has helped many SME's, other informal establishments such as traditional artisans need assistance. "If the tourists cant come to us, we must go to them. Government can subsidize us to attend international exhibitions or major once-in-a-lifetime events for us to put our products in the market."

He said that since most tourists do not know their way around, tour guides must be familiar with truly Namibian products as they can expose the work of the locals. "Tour guides are the middle men between us and the tourists, if they do not know that there are also carving stalls in Walvis Bay, then chances of tourists showing up here are very little."

Immanuel dreams of one day exporting his work to other countries and urged government to enhance and involve informal SME's to attend conferences hosted by other countries that invite Namibia.

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