Namibia: Bumpy Road Ahead for Tourism

The tourism industry fears a bumpy road still lies ahead of them, despite relatively favourable protocols, which encourage international tourists to visit the country.

The Bank of Namibia announced in February 2021 that the industry has lost N$3.2 billion and that 70% of businesses in the travel sector recorded bookings below 10% of normal bookings.

Tourism is an important industry in Namibia, generating incomes and jobs for many people and earning the country foreign exchange but the Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the industry.

"We are not near any form of new normality or profitable levels for tourism as yet at all, and it will definitely take huge and united national efforts to get Namibia's tourism sector back on its feet," said Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) CEO Gitta Paetzold.

According to the April to June 2021 Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) report on the tourism sector, encouraging news on vaccines boosted hopes for recovery but challenges remain, with the sector expected to remain in survival mode until well into 2021.

"Whether the industry can recover from such a devastating blow will depend upon the success of major markets in staging a recovery from Covid-19 as well as Namibia's ability to vaccinate its population and the local industry's ability to successfully lure back foreign tourists once this is done. The local industry can play an important role in promoting vaccinations among staff and in the wider population," the report suggests.

The report stated real recovery will only be possible when international tourists return.

By the end of the third quarter of last year, 64% of businesses reported a revenue loss of over 50%.

Hardest hit was the manufacturing sector, transport, tourism (including restaurants and hotels) and the construction sector.

HAN said while Namibia seems to slowly be moving out of the deepest and most challenging time of the Covid-19 pandemic to date, the tourism and hospitality sector is far from recovery.

"The HAN has captured performance of our sector, the commercial tourism accommodation over the past six months, and has to admit that Namibia's tourism industry still has a long and hard road ahead to full recovery," said Paetzold.

The second quarter of 2021 revealed a national average room occupancy of just over 23%, compared to almost 54% in the year 2019, the last normal year.

The second quarter of 2020 report shows April to June, being the nearest to lockdown months (with travel bans in Namibia last year), revealed an all-time low occupancy of barely 4.5%.

Paetzold, therefore said, "While we are definitely on our way up, the road is long, and hope for a speedy recovery and positive high season that would have started in July this year, smothered by the current high-risk status imposed on Namibia in terms of international travel advisory".

Equally, she said, this negative status resulted in losses of millions of dollars in potential business through cancellations of planned travels to Namibia for the period July to September.

Namibia continues to hold the status of "high risk and virus variant" status, which is a strong travel barrier at international level.

Paetzold is hopeful and trusts that information on decreasing Covid-19 numbers, increasing vaccinations and improved and strengthened state at health facilities will send out positive messaging across the globe and lead to Namibia being categorised as a low-risk destination.

"And hopefully soon a desirable travel destination - a status that our tourism industry is working for and deserves to be able to build back and create livelihoods and opportunities for all."

Tourism ministry spokesperson Romeo Muyunda also stressed that in the time of Covid-19, everyone's collective focus should rather be on fighting the pandemic and really come up with innovative ways to ensure affected industries like tourism stay afloat to provide employment to support livelihoods.

HAN and other tourism players believe the concerted and joint efforts by all to rally behind the Namibian national vaccination campaign is a perfect way to work towards unlocking the restrictions and limitations posed by the virus.

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