By Jana-Mari Smith
To know the present we must look into the past to know the future we look into the past and the present” – Unknown
Prelimanary calculations released by Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) this week show that an estimated 1,3 million tourists stepped onto Namibian soil in 2013.
Digu // Noabeb, CEO of NTB told a delegation of Namibian tourism stakeholders in Windhoek yesterday that the figures also show that while there has been a decline in growth of traditional markets, including Germany and the United Kingdom, new markets have shown promising increases. Amongst the strongest new markets choosing Namibia as a travel destination are North America and China.
//Noabeb furthermore noted that there has been an estimated 50 percent increase in registered tourism businesses since 2003. Around 4 200 businesses are registered in Namibia currently, compared to close to 2 200 in 2003.
The most vibrant growth is taking place in the establishment of guest houses, notably in non-traditional neighborhoods, including Katutura and Khomasdal, with the goal of catering to national and regional overnight requirements.
Another top growth sector is the trophy hunting sector, //Noabeb claimed.
These figures were presented at the start of a three day workshop hosted by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET). The workshop provides a platform during which participants from a variety of tourism sectors will discuss Namibia’s draft documents on National Sustainable Tourism Growth and Tourism Investment Profile and Promotion Strategies.
“The aim of the national tourism growth and development strategy is to transform Namibia into the most competitive tourism destination in Africa”, the MET stated.
Many at the workshop agreed that while Namibia has vast potential in a top tourism product, that potential has yet to be fully exploited. The workshop provides stakeholders the chance to air their views on the draft documents which will forge the future of tourism in Namibia.
“Tourism is everyone’s business”, was the tagline repeated by all speakers.
Rudi Putter, National Chairman of the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) said that the tourism industry is still “in its infancy”, and is facing many challenges that prevent it from blossoming. He said at the moment the tourism industry and all relevant influencers, including those in government and the public and private sector, are still often functioning as separate camps, and he noted that a combined tourism strategy and goals are urgently needed.
He cautioned that all efforts should be focused on attracting tourists instead of keeping beds empty, and said that currently there are a number of legislation and policies, plus a lack of skills and co-ordination within the industry, that are keeping Namibia’s tourism sector from fulfilling its mandate, goals and potential.
Putter said that it is important to note that the tourism industry is one of the most competitive global industries and that Namibia is not Nr 1 in terms of best tourism destination or offerings.
He said that without “huge amounts of concerted efforts” from all, including peripheral organisations, industries and government agencies, such as Home Affairs, Air Namibia, Roads Authority, training schools and many more, Namibia will lag behind.
Putter concluded that unless government and private sector investments in the tourism industry align, the ultimate goal, of achieving profits, will not be met.
Deputy Minister of MET, Pohamba Shifetah reiterated that Namibia’s goal of becoming the number one most competitive tourist destination in Africa by 2017 (now ranked 3rd in Sub-Saharan Africa) is achievable.
He said that ultimately, the money generated by Namibia’s tourism industry, will have a positive impact on Namibia’s infrastructure, such as roads, clinics, schools plus it will empower individuals as well as push money into Namibia’s GDP.
Another off-shoot of a thriving tourism industry is the protection of Namibia’s wilderness and the plants and animals that depend on a healthy environment for their survival.