Namibia: Lockdown Casts Eerie Shadow Over Hotel Industry

Swakopmund, known as Namibia's tourist mecca, looks eerily unnatural as large hotels, usually bustling with activity, have gone suddenly quiet because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Some people fear that the end of the lockdown locally may not be enough to revive business-as-usual.

Ohlthaver & List Group spokesperson Roux-ché Locke last month said the group's subsidiary, O&L Leisure, has been severely impacted by the pandemic.

Following the declaration of the state of emergency by President Hage Geingob and subsequent lockdown of the Khomas and Erongo regions from 27 March to 16 April 2020, O&L Leisure closed its head office in Windhoek.

At the start of the lockdown, the company still intended to keep Strand Hotel Swakopmund open for business while adhering to government's restriction on large groups by controlling the number of guests accommodated at a time. This changed after it became clear the toll of the lockdown and virus on hotel business was too much.

Strand Hotel closed as did all the other hotels at Swakopmund - hopefully until 17 April - when the lockdown is expected to be lifted.

"The entire Namibian tourism industry - the most affected sector in the economy - is literally on its knees as it is estimated to lose in excess of N$70 million per day during this time. It is sad what we are experiencing right now. We are fighting for survival as thousands of jobs are on the line.

"While we are trying to cut costs as much as we can during this time, with the drastic measures we have had to take, we are trying our best to avoid staff and salary cuts at this point," said O&L Leisure managing director Norbert Wurm.

General manager of the Swakopmund Hotel and Entertainment Centre of Legacy Hotels Janet Wilson-Moore told this newspaper yesterday that the hotel, restaurant and casino - and the conference centres - are closed until 17 April - unless the lockdown is extended.

"At the moment there is no movement; nor for the next two months. We are sitting at 0% business. It's not looking good," she said, adding that even if the lockdown stopped, national borders may still be closed, which will cut off foreign tourism imports.

"We may have to depend on local tourism for the time being, until all this is over, but even the locals will be cash-strapped in this situation."

According to her, it is not only the lockdown that is causing business to devolve. Things went from boom to bust for tourism very quickly from the beginning of March when international travel restrictions were put into place, and consequently had a devastating impact on Namibia's tourism industry.

This major hotel gets 90% of its business from international clients.

"I think it could take us eight to 12 months before we start recovering. The small establishments are suffering, but us big ones are also being hit very hard," she said.

Other major hotels at Swakopmund tell a similar story. The Hansa Hotel, Delight Hotel and BoN Hotel are also closed until the lockdown is over - but an increase in coronavirus cases may just result in the lockdown being extended. Namibia currently has 16 cases.

The Swakopmund Residents' Association stated in its newsletter yesterday that Swakopmund has been badly affected due to the impact on the tourism sector.

"Hotels and restaurants have closed, and many businesses are operating on only a skeleton staff, and our streets are quiet and empty. How will we ever return to normal? It will take time for tourism confidence to build up again, and for businesses to restore themselves," the letter read.

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