Some local tour operators have disputed the statistics released by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism on tourist arrivals in the country between July 2010 and July 2011 and are asking Government to cushion them against the Euro-zone debt effects.
In its report released recently, The Ministry says there has been a 0,4% increase in arrivals but several tour operators say they doubt the veracity of the figures.
Most of Namibia’s tourists come from European countries that are currently struggling under the effects of the Greek and Spanish debt crises.
The managing director of SWA Safaris, one of the oldest tour operators in Namibia, Wilfried Sentefol, cast doubt on the recently released data by the Ministry.
He said the sector is faced with a decline, unlike in the previous years, since independence when the sector saw the number of tourist arrivals jump from 200 000 in 1991 to over 800 000 in 2007.
“The Namibian government is not doing enough to promote the country in overseas destinations despite the good work being done by the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) team in Europe. There is a need to invest in international promotional campaigns aimed at selling the country abroad to attract high end spenders to Namibia,” he charged.
Sentefol said the country’s heavy dependence on the European market exposes the industry to economic mishaps especially in the case of what is happening in Spain and other countries.
“If there are few tourists coming to the country, it means my buses will be standing idle and the business will incur losses. On top of that, I still have to pay insurance for them and pay the drivers while they are not bringing in money. Small operators will also be affected including airport transfers and accommodation providers as there will be cancellation of bookings which results in losses for these companies too,” said Sentefol.
Christina Werner, owner and marketing manager of Elisenheim Guest Farm just outside Windhoek as well as Julius Gawaseb the owner of Vulkan Ruine Tours & Transfer reiterated Sentefol’s sentiments.
Werner said the current situation is unprecedented as Namibia is used to a significant increase in the number of tourist arrivals every year. She added that between March and August, the sector was at its lowest point this year and things are currently starting to pick up as the tourism season has just begun.
“There is no denying that we are feeling the impact of the economic crunch. Most of tourist arrivals to Namibia are from Europe, particularly Germany which is part of the Euro-zone currently embroiled in the debt crisis. This means people in these countries are cutting back on their travelling expenditure which will affect our tourism sector here,” said Werner.
Gawaseb said those affected by the current debt crisis are well established business entities as they source many of their tourists from Europe.
However, he added that most of the effects of the crisis will soon be felt by smaller players as well.
“Many bookings are done in advance and as things stand now, it is likely that tourists from Europe will struggle to make bookings for next year due to the economic uncertainties. This will, in the end, affect us all in the long run if there are cancellation or a decrease in advance bookings,” said Gawaseb.
One of the solutions is to turn to the Asian market by opening up direct flights to that part of the world and allowing their airlines to fly to Namibia.
Sentefol said a change of market focus would reduce the heavy dependence on the European market.
“Many people like to fly in their national airliners because of the type of services they get there. However, the Government should also launch direct flights to Asian markets. Asians who want to travel to Namibia, have to connect through South Africa and sometimes Dubai yet in Europe it is just a quick trip to Germany and within hours you are in Windhoek,” said Sentefol.
Werner said, “To attract Asian interest in Namibia, we need to invest a considerable amount of energy to sell the country to them and it will require new marketing strategies.”
Gawaseb also said having direct flights to Asia will open up tremendous opportunities for Namibia’s small operators.
However, like Werner, he is sceptical of whether the country will do enough to attract the Asian market to Namibia.
“Asians, particularly the Chinese, are not really into camping but the Japanese are. Therefore, if we manage to promote our country effectively in that part we might just hit gold in Asia. This will open up tremendous new opportunities for Namibia and small operators. The idea should be considered as the European market is currently dominated by those big established tour operators,” said Gawaseb.
Chief Executive Officer of NTB, in charge of marketing Namibia, Digu //Noabeb said the ongoing Euro debt crisis can create alternative markets for Namibian tourism especially in Asia.
He added that Namibia has recently been doing a market survey on the possibilities of tapping into the Chinese market together with other Southern African countries to establish a credible alternative to the dwindling numbers from Europe.
“However, there are limitations in terms of air transport and information availability to Chinese as we do not have a lot of direct flights from the region to China,” said //Noabeb.
According to him, approaching China from a regional perspective will benefit the region as Chinese people like to travel in groups and they are most likely to visit more than two countries at a time.
He said all that regional countries need to do is pull resources together and put up aggressive campaigns in China to market the region and provide relevant information.