- A decline in Namibia's tourism this year is fast becoming of increasing concern to many players in the industry which, in recent years, has been one of the country's fastest growing sectors. Namibian agents in Europe are receiving many questions about land reform and the crime situation in Namibia while a strong Rand makes Namibia a more expensive destination.
With the peak overseas tourist season in Namibia over its halfway mark, several sectors in the industry have so far recorded a decrease of between six to 30 percent in business compared to last year.
Some national stakeholders predict that next year might be even worse if the slow rate of bookings for the next season is anything to go by. Fears are also mounting that many Namibian tourism establishments might have to resort to cutting staff numbers in order to survive.
In 2003, Namibia's tourism industry generated 23,000 direct and 32,000 indirect jobs. Businesses depending on tourism at Swakopmund - the major non-wildlife destination in the country - have recorded losses of up to 45 percent this year.
- Businesses are really struggling, said Jenny Carvill, businesswoman and Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) member. "It is dead quiet even in the peak season, and that is what is worrying," she added, saying NCCI members were talking about an average 30 percent decline. Gitta Paetzold of the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) said their members had registered an average decrease of 15 percent.
Maxi Louis of the Namibian Community Based Tourism Association (Nacobta) said their statistics would only be available at the end of the month, but agreed that there was definitely a downturn in tourist numbers according to verbal feedback received from members. She said figures at the community camp sites were really down.
Representatives of the adventure industry at the Namibian coast said activities such as quad biking and dolphin tours had dropped by between nine to 11 percent.
The CEO of the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB), Gideon Shilongo, told 'The Namibian' that the decline had been confirmed to his office. "The overall estimates range from a negative growth of six percent to 25 percent in occupancy numbers." Mr Shilongo said the decline in tourism was not unique to Namibia, but a global trend.
- The world economy is not performing well and this affects consumers who are cautious about spending their savings, he said. Germany, as one of Namibia's main sources of tourists, has been particularly affected by a slow economy. Mr Shilongo said it was therefore crucial that Namibia maintained stability "whether it is [on] land reform or other issues. Stability is the first factor people consider when choosing a destination."
Jackie Asheeke, CEO of the Federation of Namibian Tourism Associations (Fenata), said their agents in Europe were receiving many questions about land reform and the crime situation in Namibia. The ongoing land reform has made relatively great headlines in the European press, with some journalists drawing parallels to Zimbabwe's troublesome reform.
Another factor that the majority of people contacted by 'The Namibian' agreed on was the strong South African Rand, which defines the national currency, the Namibian Dollar (N$), at a fixed one-to-one exchange rate. With the Rand gaining in value by 40 percent in recent months, package tours to Namibia have become more expensive.
- Tours to the Caribbean, for instance, are half the price, explained Ms Paetzold of the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN). "If people only have two weeks leave they would choose the best package available." Mr Shilongo said Asia was offering tours at give-away prices to attract tourists again after SARS and the bird flu epidemic.
Fenata's Mr Asheeke agreed that as a long-haul destination, Namibia had to compete with many other destinations that could offer better prices. Mr Shilongo felt that players in Namibia should start offering specials as well "otherwise they will really start feeling a serious pinch".
The change in the exchange rate had also brought the issue of overpricing to the fore. "This issue must be addressed," said Mr Asheeke. "People tell us [the price of] accommodation is far too high in Namibia," said James Tromp, a quad bike operator at Swakopmund. Accommodation makes up 60 percent of a travel package.
The issue is of such concern that a workshop is planned for the end of October to sensitise the industry on the principles of pricing. There was agreement among role players that some accommodation establishments did not calculate their actual costs in establishing a price, but rather looked at what the neighbour or competitor were doing and priced accordingly. "Many of them cannot justify their prices," said Shilongo of the NTB.
In an industry that is renowned for its volatility, other factors such as the Olympic Games and Euro Soccer Cup, as well as a negative article on Namibia in 'Der Spiegel' in Germany, were named.
The downward trend follows on 2003 statistics recently released by Dr Rukee Tjingaete, Deputy Director of Tourism Planning and Development in Namibia's Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Dr Tjingaete reports that Namibia retained its reputation as a stable destination for foreign tourists, despite a dramatic decrease of 30.4 percent in the number of tourists classified under the WTO as holiday-leisure travellers.
Calling it "the most disappointing single result for 2003 compared to 2002" Dr Tjingaete said holiday-leisure travellers decreased from 430,167 in 2002 to 299,437 in 2003. Tourism performance is generally determined by a destination's capacity to attract holiday travellers, who also spend the most money.
South Africa has also recorded a negative trend this year and saw a revenue loss of Rand 1.7 billion (euro 213 million) in the first quarter. Also the traditional luxury holiday resorts in the southern Indian Ocean - Seychelles, Mauritius and Réunion - are currently facing tougher times.
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