Swakopmund: The Hansa celebrates its first 100 yearsSeptember 3, 2012
Angling for adventure? Go fishing in Caprivi!September 3, 2012
by Michaela Kanzler
On a stroll around the African market in Windhoek’s suburb of Katutura, a group of tourists suddenly pauses in amazement. The most beautiful leather goods are on display in a small shop with the unpretentious name ‘24 Soweto Market’. Elegant handbags, backpacks and wallets, fashionable jackets and belts made from ostrich and crocodile leather, sealskin and cowhide all bear close scrutiny with ease. These skilfully crafted items are offered by Kaitoo Leather Products, a small enterprise owned by businesswoman Kaitoo Kapere.
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) play an increasingly important role in Southern Africa. In combination with the Policy of Broad-Based Black Empowerment (BBBE), it is hoped that SMEs will contribute to the goal of closing the wide income gap between rich and poor. Many SMEs are still young, but they are already contributing to economic growth in the region. In South Africa alone it is estimated that eight out of ten employees work for a small or medium enterprise. In tourism, a leading growth sector, SMEs are thought to have the best chance of success. This is particularly true for Namibia.
Tourism-related SMEs are supported by the Namibian government and by non-governmental organisations such as the Namibia Community-Based Tourism Association (NACOBTA) and SMEs Com-pete, a development programme funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Several tour operators and private individuals also offer support. The goal is to increase the competitive edge of SMEs, to enhance co-operation between well-established larger companies and the small newcomers, and to create jobs.
Even with outside support, starting a business can be very difficult. Kaitoo Kapere’s experience is a prime example. “I gained 16 years of experience with Nakara (a well-established leather company in Windhoek) before I started my own business, Kaitoo Leather Products, in 2000,” explains Kapere, a mother of five. She would like to buy additional and better machines, employ more seamstresses and increase production, but she does not have the means to finance expensive equipment. At best she could pay in monthly instalments. But, says Kapere, “The high interest rates on a bank loan are simply out of my reach.” For now, she adds, “Business is going well. I have enough orders.”
Willem February, who runs an upholstery business of the same name, has seen his business thrive since joining the ranks of SME entrepreneurs. In 1997 he started his one-man-business in a COMAV airline hangar. Five years ago he moved to a larger workshop in Prosperita. Today he and his ten employees make lounge suites, aircraft seats, the interior furnishings of safari vehicles for lodges, and repair camping equipment and there is no lack of orders. “Many customers are referred to us by satisfied clients,” René February, her husband’s office manager, points out happily.
Many of Namibia’s new entrepreneurs have sound skills, knowledge and brilliant ideas. Their niche products would undoubtedly enhance the range of what is on offer to visitors to Namibia. Cultural or township tours, for example, could be integrated into existing tours offered by established tour operators. According to Daan Strauss, an independent consultant whose services are periodically used by SMEs Compete, says marketing and a lack of self-confidence are two of the major problems young SMEs face. “We offer courses in marketing, organise exhibitions and invite established enterprises to participate,” Strauss says. At the recent Namibia Holiday and Travel Expo held in Windhoek, SMEs Compete organised stands for 16 businesses. During Expo, some of the small entrepreneurs made it clear that they would still appreciate more support from established companies. They expressed disappointment that tour operators generally do not use qualified local guides to take visitors around townships in Windhoek and Swakopmund.
At present, few SMEs receive direct support from established companies. Lesley Gariseb is one of the lucky few. The Director of Sossusvlei Lodge, Willie du Toit, became Gariseb’s mentor. He helped Gariseb shape his idea of exposing tourists to a traditional African way of life and develop a product for the tourism market. Together they compiled a marketing concept and secured financing. “This is no handout at all,” du Toit emphasises. “This is business.” Gariseb nods his assent. “I have to pull my weight and repay my loan as stipulated.”
On 18 June 2005 Gariseb proudly inaugurated Aabadi Bush Camp near Wilhelmstal. The camp offers traditional local Herero and Nama dishes, adjusted to European palates. For a bush experience, visitors can take part in short guided tours. They can also watch the making of arts and crafts.
More support and more partnerships need to be formed with SMEs so that they will grow to become large and larger businesses who will then partner with new SMEs. It is a trend worth supporting.
This article appeared in the July/Aug ‘05 edition of Travel News Namibia.