Namibia: Tough Times Ahead for Tourism After Visa Bombshell

The Namibian tourism industry anticipates a drastic decrease in tourist arrivals following a decision by the Cabinet to impose a visa regime on certain countries.

These countries include those not reciprocating Namibia's visa-on-arrival policy.

The decision was made last week and is set to affect jobs in the tourism industry, stakeholders say.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security will impose this visa regime on all countries not allowing Namibians entry without visas.

Visitors from 31 countries will be affected.

Countries with reciprocal visa arrangements which will not be affected are Angola, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

According to the Tourism Satellite Account (TSA), a report launched in March, tourism directly contributed 6,9% to Namibia's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2022, equating to N$14,3 billion.

The report says the sector is a significant employment powerhouse, generating 57 571 direct jobs in 2022, which translates to 7,9% of total employment.

Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) acting chief executive Bonnie Mbizo says the tourism industry would be severely affected, and Namibia should be treated with respect.

"We need to understand that Namibia is part of the global village. We need to be treated with respect, especially when you extend an olive branch to others.

"Why can those 31 countries not do the same for Namibia on bilateral relations? Namibia has relations with European countries and a strong historical background. It is based on such history that we thought these countries would do the same," he says.


Mbizo says tourist arrivals were just starting to increase, which would now drop again if this decision is to be implemented.

"Our source of income, which was also beginning to pick up, will also reduce. Most of the hotels in Namibia where tourists had already looked will not be occupied any more. Some tour guides who had already increased their fleet services will also suffer a lot.

"Maybe the decision needs to be consulted on for us to give our input . . . and I am sure the invitation was genuine and the ministry is going to consider our input," he says.

Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) chief executive Gitta Paetzold on Friday said the announcement comes as a huge disappointment to the association and a large part of the tourism sector.

"No consultation was done to determine the negative impact this may have on the travel sector. Namibia has been hard at work to position itself as an open, easily accessible travel destination in Africa," she said.

Paetzold said in a very competitive environment, efforts to position Namibia as destination of choice may now suffer a huge setback.

"We do understand the principle of reciprocity, but in terms of tourism, the value of this sector for our national economy is far greater than the economies of our international source markets.

"We are very concerned about the message this announcement sends to the global travel trade," she said.

Paetzold said without full details, it may be premature to determine mitigating measures.

Minister of home affairs, immigration, safety and security Albert Kawana says some of the countries not reciprocating Namibia's visa-on-arrival policy have been ill-treating Namibians who visit their countries.

"Our nationals are treated like criminals even with valid visas. Some of them are regarded as illegal immigrants - even the ones on diplomatic passports. The way they are treated is not right, and it is not only Namibia, it is the whole of Africa," he says.

Kawana says although many tourists visit Namibia without visas, their countries have not returned the gesture.

"For us principles are more important, because we have a duty to make sure our citizens are treated well wherever they go.

"They must get the same treatment they are used to at home, and we also make sure those countries' citizens, when they come to Namibia, are treated well and without intimidation," he says.

The minister says although this decision may affect the tourism industry, plans are being made to accommodate tourists who have paid in advance and have made arrangements to visit Namibia.

"In order not to disrupt the tourism industry, we need to make arrangements, because we are aware of tourists who have paid and made arrangements to come to Namibia.

"We are working closely with the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism to make sure their programme is not disrupted.

"We are now going back to the Cabinet to report the time frame in which that decision will be effective in order to prevent the impact on the tourism industry," Kawana says.

Namibia currently grants visa exemptions to about 55 countries, but only 18 of these reciprocate the favour.

On Wednesday, The Namibian reported that most hotels and accommodation facilities in Namibia achieved a 58% occupancy rate in April. This is a 7% increase from last year, which is 4% higher than the average occupancy rate for April 2019.

"What is exciting to note is that business travel seems to be returning slowly but surely, with over 13% of the accommodation registered in April noted as business travel, especially in the hotel segment," Paetzold says.

She says European markets still dominate the Namibian tourism sector, specifically German-speaking countries.


Last month, The Namibian reported that more tourists continue arriving in the country, promising further growth in the hospitality sector this year.

According to economic analysts Simonis Storm Securities, the collective number of international tourist arrivals at various airports amounted to 71 584 passengers from January to February this year, up from 57 921 passengers recorded in the corresponding period in 2023.

"However, it is worth noting that these figures, while showing an improvement, remain lower than the pre-pandemic benchmark of 88 907 passengers recorded in 2019," Simonis researcher Halleluya Ndimulunde says.

The first two months of 2024 saw an average 35 792 arrivals, compared to 28 961 in 2023, indicating a sustained positive momentum, she says. In February 2024, Hosea Kutako International Airport was the leading primary gateway for passenger arrivals in Namibia, recording the highest number of passengers.

Eros Suburban Airport and Walvis Bay International Airport also showed increased activity, with 3 487 and 3 070 passenger arrivals, respectively.

The Namibia Statistics Agency showed that the month of March saw a total of 90 917 passengers, reflecting an increase from 72 818 passengers in February 2024, and 77 137 passengers in March 2023.

The composite passenger movement index, encompassing regional, international and domestic arrivals and departures, surged by 24,9% in March 2024 - in stark contrast with the 1,2% uptick in the previous month.

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