For every 13 new tourists, one new job is created. Therefore, the short answer to the question, ‘How can Namibia use the tourism sector to reduce unemployment?’ is a reasonably simple one. We need to increase the number of international, regional and domestic tourists.
What is clear, however, is that enhancing our tourism sector’s performance is not a simple task. While our country possesses phenomenal tourism attractions, there are a number of significant challenges that need to be addressed to reach our full potential.
Given that this paper is based on my personal impressions gained during my 20 years in tourism I, in closing, want to refer to a personal example from The Gondwana Collection that for me illustrates what I believe is possible when the key issues are addressed.
The success of The Gondwana Collection’s new The Delight Hotel in Swakopmund I believe is a case study that brings to life the positive outcomes that are possible when some of the key strategic industry shifts I have identified are put into effect.
These can be summarised into the following key priority areas:
An overall upgrade of our offering is needed:
Our product offering needs to be elevated to stand out in today’s more professional, sophisticated and competitive tourism environment. Given that specifically for international travellers the cost of coming to Namibia can be significant, the level of the experience they have must be considered to be worth it and should compare favourably with similarly priced destinations.
Every stakeholder in the tourism industry should, therefore, make an effort to make the product more attractive. Too many of our current products are out-dated. They need to be modernised and given a facelift through investment and reinvestment.
Raise the levels of service to international standards.
We need to enhance our appreciation of the value that service adds to the tourism experience and commit to investing in service excellence. We should not allow ourselves to be satisfied with good, given that good is ultimately the enemy of great.
Add value to the experience by providing more information.
Today’s traveller no longer wants to purely relax in a new setting. They equally seek to learn about it, as well. We, therefore, need to become far better at communicating the remarkable and distinctive stories about our natural and social heritage as well.
Serve Namibia and the tourism industry with greater pride and passion.
Attitude is both infectious and motivating. The tourism industry is undeniably hard work and not an easy one.
Therefore, improvements on the aspects I have articulated can only come from a real love of our country and passion to showcase it to the best of our collective ability. Tourism really needs to matter to us all.
Capacity building is necessary to support growth.
Capacity building will be needed to support further tourism development. Infrastructure is a critical backbone of the tourism industry. It cannot grow without it.
The following key areas have been identified as requiring investment:
Infrastructure: airports, roads, energy and water (from the side of government); Accommodation (from both private and government); human resources: quality education and training (requires collaboration between government and private sector).
Incentives are needed to inspire further investment in tourism.
Given the significant capital expense of tourism capacity development and longer-term returns, it is imperative that motivating incentives are in place to encourage investment. This is specifically important in the relevant community conservation areas, which possess the highest potential for further tourism development but have been underutilised to date.
On average, 75 percent of tourism activity takes place in the western region (in and around Etosha and the Zambezi Region), where the majority of the tourist attractions in Namibia are situated. The rest of the country predominantly serves as an entry-point or transit to these tourism hotspot areas.
With an average annual rainfall below 150mm, the western this area is unsuitable for farming. The same applies to the Zambezi Region, because of its barren soil. With the Etosha area being prone to wildlife/livestock farming conflict, it would be prudent to also classify this area as tourism-oriented with regard their land-use model, as opposed to livestock farming.
These specified areas have incredible potential to grow the sector if properly incentivised. A socio-economic study conducted by Gondwana at its Fish River Canyon enterprise (situated in the below-150mm rainfall area) in fact, revealed that production per hectare was 34 times greater with tourism as a land-use form compared to commercial and/or communal farming. Greater incentives may encourage the private sector to engage in greater partnership with local communities to unlock the potential of tourism in these areas.
Invest in the brand development and marketing of Namibia.
To stand out in today’s competitive environment requires an ongoing commitment to focused and effective marketing. We simply cannot afford to rest on the presumption that our attractions will sell themselves.
The reality of today’s times is that if we do not consistently convey our competitive strengths to the right markets in the right way, we risk being overlooked. A consistent and responsive marketing strategy, therefore, that includes both government and private sector efforts needs to be in place.
Confidence in Namibia and the tourism sector is an imperative for growth.
Investor confidence is a critical factor for development. After Independence Namibia managed to maintain a politically stable and investor-friendly environment, making it a darling in the eyes of not only local, but also foreign investors.
Accordingly, the tourism industry we have today has in large part been established through private funds and investments. Yet we need to mindful that maintaining this investor and business confidence is an ongoing necessity.
It can so easily be eroded by socio-economic factors, like the huge income gap between a minority of wealthy people and majority of low income groups, lack of transparency, or uncertainty with respect to legislation and land-use policies, bad governance or the financial challenges currently faced by government.
To maintain investor confidence, government must tackle these challenges with the appropriate action and transparency. From a visitor perspective, confidence in the safety of our country remains paramount. Here government needs to be far more vocal in the media when unforeseen negative events arise on the continent, to assure traveller peace of mind.
We are engaged in a marathon – not a sprint.
In sum, I hope what has become clear is that Namibia’s tourism sector is an invaluable contributor to the economy of Namibia. Not only is the global tourism sector one of the best industry performers these past five years, but within this, Namibia’s remarkable tourism growth has been exceptionally positive for the country. We are undoubtedly fortunate to possess a remarkable array of tourism attractions as the foundation of our offering.
Tourism is, furthermore, one of the most sustainable means of income generation at our disposal. Its effect on our land is minimal (compared to mining for example) and in fact encourages the conservation of our country’s natural and cultural heritage. Above the value it has added to our economy to date, Namibian tourism holds much greater potential that is to be unlocked. This will, however, require a more motivating and supportive environment to blossom further.
I believe that the future for tourism and the Namibian economy is bright.
* This is an excerpt from the paper ‘Employment Creation in the Tourism Sector: How can Namibia use the tourism sector to reduce unemployment’, presented by Manfred Goldbeck to the Bank of Namibia’s 17th Annual Symposium on Thursday, September 22. Goldbeck is a founding member and managing director of The Gondwana Collection Namibia since 1996.