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On Monday, Theo Nghitila, the Commissioner of Environmental Affairs at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), said that to date Namibia has only scratched the surface of a new type of tourism that could increase the number of international tourists that visit Namibai each year.
That tourism concept: SAVE tourism. SAVE stands for Scientific, Academic, Volunteer and Educational tourism.
Nghitila was speaking at a SAVE workshop on Monday, facilitated by Dr Kristin Lamoureux, a tourism professor at the George Washington University.
Nghitila said that the SAVE workshop was part of an MET strategy to look at ways to improve the SAVE tourism concept in Namibia and to extract maximum potential from it.
“However, it seems that in Namibia, we are just scratching the surface of the potential of this segment as we can do more through a coordinated harmonised and focused approach”, he said.
He said if Namibia could pursue the SAVE tourism market more strongly, then Namibia could succeed at increasing the number of international tourists who visit Namibia each year.
He pointed out that Namibia has already made inroads into the sector in certain ways. As examples he mentioned that under the term of “volunteer tourism (Voluntourism)” there are volunteer scientists working at Ongava and Gobabeb and “study abroad students” who are involved in academic tourism in Namibia. Moreover, volunteers regularly assists at wildlife rehabilitation centres, such as the Cheetah Conservation Fund and Naankuse, and academics such as teachers are working in Namibia through international organisations such as the US Peace Corps.
However, Nghitila said that “many of us have concerns about this issue especially its impacts on our work in parks and conservation, it presents significant challenges to immigration are these people working or are they on holiday – is it therefore a work visa or a holiday visa?”, he asked.
He said the issue is “cross-cutting and affects many other sectors not related to tourism only” such as education, health, construction, charity and so forth.
He said the issues need to be tackled “with open hearts”, and should be deliberated and taken apart “in a constructive manner”. Ultimately, he said, “the country stands to benefit”.
Nghitila said it is vital that “we therefore must not give up on this segment because of challenges. We must work together to find solutions to overcome these challenges”.