Of all the towns in Namibia, Swakopmund was the first to be exposed to holidaymakers in the real sense of the word, and this happened long before Namibia became geared for tourism. Half a century ago these visitors were mostly locals who escaped from the intense heat of the summer in the interior by spending their Christmas holidays at the coast. Nowadays, few foreign visitors pass through Namibia without spending at least one night in this popular coastal town.
Swakopmund Mayor, Rosina //Hoabes, who has a Masters degree in Environmental Education from Rhodes University, stresses the fact that although Swakopmund is a holiday resort and although the City Council is committed to promoting it as such, development strategies are based on many other important considerations as well. “Tourism is currently the leading economic sector and we will continue to invest in tourism infrastructures, but we do need to keep a balance,” she said.
Swakopmund was the first town to establish a fully functioning tourist information office, and this office is still one of the most effective and professionally run set-ups of its kind. Located in the main street, the office is funded largely by the local business sector and Town Council. While the permanent population of Swakopmund is 35 000 according to the latest census, during the peak holiday season the number of people in the central part of town could easily double.
It is estimated that between twenty to thirty per cent of property owners don’t live in Swakopmund. Most of these investors use their properties as holiday homes, primarily during the Christmas holiday season. The majority of them are Namibians, investing in a second home at the coast. According to estate agents, the demand from European investors is also growing steadily.
Eckart Demasius, CEO of the Swakopmund City Council, says the majority of visitors to Swakopmund during the peak season at the end of the year are holidaymakers from South Africa and Namibians from the interior. These two groups still represent the largest annual percentage of visitors to the town. An estimated 2 000 beds are available in registered accommodation establishments, ranging from luxury hotels, guesthouses, bed & breakfasts and backpacker establishments to self-catering units.
Throughout the year most of this accommodation is occupied by international visitors, and occupancy is at its highest during the traditional peak season for European tourists, namely August and September. Since accommodation establishments are not obliged by law to furnish statistics as yet, it is impossible to provide accurate figures. Through the Namibia Tourism Board, however, tourism levies will be introduced soon, and with this a compulsory system of accurate data provision. Such statistics will support future development strategies.
Two major development projects currently are the Waterfront in Vineta and the swimming-pool area near the Lighthouse. These developments, when fully completed, are expected to add a few hundred more beds. According to Mayor //Hoabes, the biggest problem concerning property development currently is the scarcity of land, which inflates the price of erven. At an auction early in 2004, plots were sold in Kramersdorf for N$1 000 per square metre.
Making it friendly
The Swakopmund municipality takes great care in developing the centre of town to be tourist- and pedestrian-friendly. Facades of new buildings should blend with the colonial-style architecture of the old ones and businesses are encouraged to adapt to new trends and demands resulting from increased tourist numbers. Many businesses, restaurants and shops that are dependent on tourist traffic have already adapted shopping hours to suit visitors. Italian tourists, mainly during July, August and September, often complain about the fact that shops are closed in the late afternoon and on Sundays – often the only time they have for shopping.
Swakopmund CEO Eckart Demasius says one of the major advantages of coastal development in the Swakopmund municipal area is that the beaches will always be free. This means there will never be private beaches, except in the case of a port, and the general public will always have the right to use the entire beach. There are restrictions on the kind of activities allowed on certain parts of the beach such as prohibiting beach angling, but these rules have been devised to improve rather than lessen the charm of a beach experience.
This article appeared in the July/Aug ‘04 edition of Travel News Namibia.