A Nomad Explores Namibia’s Living DesertJuly 16, 2014
Namibia Conservancy Programme Annual Review 2014July 18, 2014
Main photograph: Local musicians played while delegates networked and enjoyed champagne and oysters. ©ATTA/Kristen Gill Photography. All rights reserved. www.kristengill.com
By Steve Felton
Unless you have made a very big profit, you don’t normally expect an accountant to say “Wow”.
But that was the first word in the stock taking report on the Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS 2013) prepared for the Namibian government, and presented at the Nampower Convention Centre on Tuesday night, 7 July, while the rest of the world was watching Brazil go 7-1 down to Germany.
The ATWS took place in Windhoek and Swakopmund from 26-31 October 2013. It was the first time the summit had taken place in Africa. Over 600 delegates visited Namibia to talk shop – to exchange ideas about adventure travel and to sell destinations and products to each other. For the host country, it was an opportunity to showcase Namibia to the delegates and over 60 journalists and travel writers who came to cover the event.
Think Brazil. It costs a lot of money to set up a world class event – and that’s after you have persuaded the powers that be to come to your country. And it doesn’t always work out. There are risks involved; which is why the Government of Namibia commissioned a cost/benefit analysis to take stock of the Adventure Travel World Summit – what did it cost and what were the benefits?
Minister of Environment and Tourism Hon. Uahekua Herunga told the audience at the event that the tourism sector is a strategic pillar of Namibia’s Development Plan 4, due to job creation and growth opportunities. Tourism generates foreign exchange earnings and brings rural development and empowerment of local communities, especially through communal conservancies which have joint ventures with tour and lodge operators in the private sector.
Financial analyst David McEwen was employed to take stock of the Summit, based upon a survey of delegates, with the assistance of funding from the Millennium Challenge Account, and he presented his findings at the gala event organized by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, which kicked off at the same time as the World Cup semi-final. The key objective of McEwen’s study was to measure the impact of hosting the Summit on the Namibian economy.
“Wow,” he said: to bring the summit to Namibia was a big risk. The Adventure Trade Travel Association (ATTA) had to be sure that Namibia could pull it off, and Namibia had to be sure that the long-term benefits would be worth the cost.
On a hard financial analysis, about 50% of the costs have been recovered. Costs include the physical structure to host the event, staff employed, and potential income lost by giving discounts to summit visitors, who may have taken the place of higher paying tourists. Immediate benefits include the cash inflow and wages earned. The average delegate spent N$12,241 during the stay, and the total spend was around N$8 million, compared with a cost in the region of N$18 million.
Much harder to evaluate are intangible benefits. The Summit was led by Team Destination Namibia – a public/private partnership, which brought government, municipalities and the private sector together and opened up channels for future cooperation in developing the tourism sector.
McEwen estimates that the media coverage for Namibia was worth N$18.8 million, equivalent to US$1.9 million. “How would you have spent that on advertising Namibia on the North American market?” he asked delegates.
The delegate survey elicited many “wows” for Namibia, especially in the conservancy tourism sector where delegates came into contact with rural Namibians. Wildlife and landscapes were high on people’s positive lists, and the survey noted a huge swing in perceptions about Namibia, noting shifts to ‘more positive’ and ‘much more positive’ for the surveyed items ‘potential for adventure tourism, contribution of the private sector, and effectiveness of the conservancies’.
For Namibian delegates surveyed, the biggest positive was ‘learning new industry skills’, followed by ‘developing new industry contacts’, but it was not all plus points. For North American visitors, Namibia is an expensive long-haul flight away, and some delegates noted that Namibian service delivery, especially from waiters, could have been better.
Summing up, McEwen congratulated Namibia on a great summit and a job well done – but up to now only half done.
In economic terms, half of the costs have been recovered. That means that the other half has to follow, and that is the tricky bit. Many small tour operators have a great product to offer, but lack the capability to pitch in the big markets like North America. When you visit the USA, McEwen stated, you will find that they have got the money, but not the time to listen. You had better make sure that you have a product tailor-made and ready to sell.
One Swakopmund tour operator had complained to McEwen that nobody had rung him after the Summit. The second part of the job, says McEwen, is following up. “You have to ring them!”
The economic hard talk was softened by performances from Namibian cultural groups and Elemotho, before the party ended and the images of adventure travel on the big screens were replaced by the World Cup, live. With Brazil 5-0 down to Germany, there was living proof that you could spend the money and not reap the reward. But according to McEwen, Namibia is well on course to fulfil its targets for growth in the tourism sector, as long as it keeps its eye on the ball.
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