Last Friday more than thirty people came together to celebrate the 42-year career of tour operator Gustav Friedel. Friedel came to Namibia to bid farewell to colleagues and friends with whom he had fostered close relationships via his work as travel agent for Westtours in Germany. At 65, Friedel is hanging up his coat and entering retirement.
Starting in the early seventies, Friedel played a vital role in putting Namibia on the German tourist map. Through DSAR, a tour organisation he founded in Germany, Friedel became a well-known tour operator whose clients were the happy recipients of his advice and knowledge on Namibia.
More than 40 years ago, Gustav Friedel undertook his first visit to Namibia, then known as South-West Africa. Upon landing in Windhoek, he rented a VW Beetle and began his virgin journey through the country. His mission: to traverse the country comprehensively as a travel agent for Westtours in Germany, fostering relationships with the hotels and guest farms, and mapping out a life-changing journey for his clients.
On that first trip, in 1973 he took the Beetle across Spreetshoogte Pass, which was a real adventure. Friedel made it his mission to get to know all the guest farms operating at the time, as well as the people who ran them. He explored the accommodation options throughout the country, from the south in Keetmanshoop, to the coastal towns, and up north.
In the seventies, organised group tours through Namibia took about three weeks. In summer, Ai-Ais was closed due to the stifling heat and possible flooding of the Fish River, and Etosha was closed due to the rainy season.
Bookings were done via the post. Then this aspect took a huge leap forward when technology introduced the telex option. According to Friedel, the tourism industry was relatively uncomplicated in those days. Contracts were discussed and sealed over a glass of whisky or a smooth wine. Only a few travel organisations were operating at the time, so everyone knew who was whom, and who did what.
The average German tourist who travelled in the seventies was of the older generation, keen for a later-in-life adventure.
Friedel has accumulated many memories through his more than 40-year relationship with the Namibian tourism industry. An example is the guest at a guest farm who demanded his money back due a mistake on a wine menu, claiming the error was a ‘reduction of holiday pleasure’. Then there were the tourists who became lost in the dune sea outside Swakopmund, and who were located only after a professional tracker had been engaged to find them.
Friedel says he loves Namibia with its unbelievably wide-open spaces and friendly people. “You simply have to experience and enjoy Namibia for what it is.” His retirement was cemented in the company of some of the many Namibians he had become good friends with over the years.
And although it is no longer in his job description to spread the news, he will, as ever, keep on recommending the country, which he says he will continue to travel through even if this is no longer his job.