Among other sectors, the tourism sector could arguably be one of the best-performing sectors of the Namibian economy in 2023.
While business and conference tourism is still below 2019 levels, this could materially increase as certain hospitality establishments already indicate that pilot, as well as the government’s green hydrogen projects, have increased the number of their guests.
This has been revealed by financial agency Simonis Storm in its January Hospitality Statistics report.
The agency states that other catalysts for business or conference tourism could be oil operations and the US embassy in Windhoek.
“Early signs show continued recovery in the local tourism sector and potentially growth, with 2023 being the first year not plagued by a variant of Covid at the start of the year since 2020,” the agency said.
In the report, Simonis Stormshows that the occupancy rates at nationwide hospitality establishments in January 2023 were higher than in pre-pandemic years, however slightly below January 2020’s level.
Occupancy rates at nationwide hospitality establishments stood at 37.1% in January 2023, compared to 37.9% in the prior month and 18.5% a year ago according to Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) data.
HAN chief executive officer Gitta Paetzold said the occupancy rate for January 2023 is 3% higher than the same period in 2019.
“It shows that we are not only recovered but we doing better now than in the year before Covid-19,” she said.
Paetzold added that this is positive and that Namibia’s local tourism market has also grown since 2019.
“More people in January from Namibia travelled so there is a very positive development that they have learned to enjoy their own country. We are starting the year better than we were in 2019,”she said.
The HAN executive hopes the positive spills will continue for 2023, adding that Namibia is a popular travel destination.
On business travel, she expressed that is difficult to recover it as many have gotten used to virtual engagements.
“People are so used to zoom meetings, they don’t play across the world to attend conferences because they can do it electronically but Namibia needs to build on it.”
Meanwhile, founder and CEO of Namibia Travel & Tourism Forum Nrupesh Soni said local tourism has been doing better compared to other African countries.
“This year should be as good as 2019 or better. You can see from the traffic at Sossusvlei, Etosha and Swakopmund that locals are travelling Namibia,” Soni said.
Simonis Storm noted that the share of Namibians visiting hospitality establishments decreased from 43.0% in December 2022 to 29.6% in January 2023, normalising as travel over the festive holidays came to an end.
“As usual, most visitors came from Namibia’s main tourist source markets, with 31.6% of visitors coming from Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, South Africa at 11.0%, the US and Canada at 3.3%, and the UK and Ireland at 2.0%,” said the agency.
Despite economic and energy challenges in Europe which is Namibia’s main tourist source market, Simonis Storm said the general commentary from foreign tourist operators indicates that there is still high demand for travel to parts such as Southern Africa and especially Namibia.
The financial agency reported that projections for 2023 are therefore cautiously positive. “Namibia participated in the Africa Eden initiative which aims to attract tourists from other markets such as the US and Central and Southern America.”
Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe are all participating in this initiative and united about 100 international travel agents with tourism product owners for promotion and marketing at the end of November 2022.
“However, most Central and Southern American countries need visas to come to Namibia. This prevents spontaneous traveling decisions not just for the newly targeted markets, but also the usual tourist source markets”. said the financial agency.
Simonis Storm is of the opinion that a visa on arrival would therefore need to be possible for everyone at all border crossing/posts and not just in Windhoek at the Hosea Kutako International Airport as it is currently the case.
The other option is to remove the visa requirement for targeted source markets and market Namibia as an open, welcoming, and accessible destination. However, this might be harder to achieve.
Further, the report highlighted that targeting tourists from alternative source markets will also assist Namibia to even out the seasonality trends in tourist inflows. Typically, tourist inflows are concentrated in Namibia’s peak season – May to September, which is Europe’s summer holiday season.