THE lack of recognition of Namibia's cultural and heritage resources is among the major obstacles to rural development in the country.
This is according to the findings of a recently launched report titled 'National strategy on sustainable heritage tourism development and employment creation opportunities at community level'.
The report was jointly launched by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism and the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
"This report is aimed at assessing various economic strategies in heritage tourism to enable communities to derive maximum benefits from their heritage resources through sustainable tourism practices," environment ministry spokesperson Romeo Muyunda says.
Muyunda says Unesco and other multilateral stakeholders' role is crucial in shaping and redefining cultural tourism.
"Namibia has a wealth of cultural heritage resources, but while some tour operators currently feature some history, heritage sites and events, the robust scope to create a heritage tourism programme has not been developed.
"This national strategy proposes some strategies and actions to strengthen this component of the tourism offering in Namibia," he says.
The report says the general apathy towards Namibia's cultural and heritage resources threatens the country's cultural identity and prevents specifically the indigenous population from tapping into the tourism sector.
Culture and heritage tourism involves travelling to sites that represent or celebrate an area or community, or people's history, identity or inheritance, the report states.
"The strategy envisions a vital heritage tourism scene in Namibia highlighting the country's rich historical, natural and cultural offerings to bring in more visitors, enrich, delight and inspire the tourists' experiences.
"Tourism is an important sector in Namibia. It generates a significant number of jobs and is a valuable foreign exchange earner for the economy," it states.
While tourism is regarded a key economic sector that can diversify the economy and create employment opportunities, the report says the issue of economic benefits to ordinary people at community level remains.
The report emphasises the need to recognise and strengthen the role of communities as active and equal partners in defining the role of cultural tourism in development.
Sector-based respondents who took part in a survey for the report feel that tourism currently contributes minimally to economic development and employment creation at community level.
Most respondents also felt that income generated from tourism activities is not evenly distributed at community level, and that the development of tourism in Namibia benefits visitors more than it does locals.
The findings further show that most respondents believed not enough recognition is given to domestic tourism along major tourist routes relating to heritage tourism.
Some respondents suggested that the private sector owns the most tourism operations and does not care about heritage and local culture.
The national strategy includes the development of a robust marketing plan targeted at Namibians.
"Domestic tourism could aid in stimulating the economy and has the potential to create jobs for locals, help alleviate poverty and the high level of unemployment.
"This will be achieved through robust marketing strategies that will change the minds and lifestyles of Namibians to appreciate their heritage and visit the sites designated as heritage sites, thereby creating new revenue streams for cultural tourism," the report reads.