Namibia: The Negative Impact of COVID-19 On Namibian Tourism

President Geingob has extended Namibia's lockdown until at least May 4.

Tourism is very important for job creation as well as foreign currency imports into Namibia, so tourism is very important for our economy. Namibia is a large country with natural scenery and is marketed overseas as the land of ample open spaces. What attracts more tourists is the good road infrastructure and a growing economy where government plays a dominant role in our economy, which also gives our country the political stability and peace that tourists so prefer.

Through the opening of previous diamond areas in the Sperrgebiet and tourism routes in community-based concession areas such as that of the Topnaar and other communities, Namibia as a country is visited by more than 1.5 million tourists each year (Shifeta Pohamba, New Era, 2020). However, tourists are easily influenced by the negative trends when they want to travel. Some examples that deter tourists are poor governance/management such as poaching, political instability, war, currency fluctuations and epidemics.

Firstly, Namibian tourism thrives on how our wildlife lives and how they bloom in our open spaces, like our wild horses between Aus and Lüderitz, our world-famous desert and sand dunes. With the help of the government and private operators that effectively market and through wildlife protection and also the ban on illegal hunting we make nature camps such as Etosha, proud owners of big game. Although the ministry of tourism can be praised in efforts to protect wildlife in Namibia, it is by no means very successful. This can be seen in the increased poaching of rhino horn and elephant teeth for their ivory.

Secondly, the political landscape of a country also plays an important role in attracting tourists. This can be seen in the increasing number of tourists year after year. What tourists seek in countries is peace in the countries they visit. This can be said for Namibia, where, after nearly 40 years of resistance to apartheid South Africa, people are trying to appreciate our overdue peace. While elections have been mocked for most of democracy since 1990, Namibians are mostly law-abiding citizens and friendly people.

Countries with constant fighting and war, does not have tourism, as can be seen in Iraq, Liberia, Iran, Sudan and South Sudan. In some cases, foreign countries such as Germany, the US, South Africa, Russia and China sell weapons to both parts of the conflicts; or where the Sudanese in other cases, such as oil from Sudan and South Sudan, are fighting over oil and if they cannot control production, at least want income from the sale of crude oil. In cases like Zaire, the various rebels are mining rare earths, which are used to manufacture cellular appliances and diamonds, which are sold to black markets by countries such as Dubai. Where rebels convert fellow citizens into slaves to mine these resources, and then sell them to continue to wage war.

Third, crises such as the financial collapse in 2008, which has economically plagued many countries around the world, are hampering tourism trade. The Ebola epidemic from Liberia in 2012 had a crippling effect on tourism in Africa. The new Covid-19 epidemic is another epidemic that is forcing countries to close their borders. The closure of countries borders around the world to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus has devastated tourist numbers, hospitality businesses and economies. While the Covid-19 epidemic started in Wuhan Province, China, the infections and deaths associated with the virus are currently affecting one million patients worldwide. With only 6 000 cases reported in Africa, the virus can only thrive on the poor health care on the continent, putting the economies of the African continent a few decades back.

The restrictions on travel due to the closure of borders, together with the stress on healthcare facilities in Namibia, have led to the closure of many lodges, hotels and other hospitality businesses. Also due to the government's late response with the aid of N$8.1 billion as an economic cushion, which does not help the workers or businesses in hospitality industries. The tourism industry, which is approximately N$7.5 billion big, will collapse. It may take about a year for the industry to recover, as the countries from which the majority of Namibian tourists, such as Germany, the United Kingdom and South Africa, are more heavily hit by Covid-19 than Namibia.

The way forward for Namibia at this time is to use the N$8.1 billion African Bank loan to suspend payment of VAT, PAYE and even suspend company tax for three months, while the VAT returns faster repayment.

The fact remains that our government never learns from history - as in 2016, amid too much government debt, the Namibian government also withheld VAT returns from businesses, forcing businesses to fire thousands of employees. In 2020, the same government, but under different minister of finance, came out and again informed businesses that government taxes must be honoured, which means thousands will lose jobs again as many businesses will have to close doors.

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