Jackie Wilson Asheeke

Last week, online and print media exploded with public discontent over the selection by the Federation of Namibian Tourism Associations (Fenata) of Lira, a South African singer/celebrity, to be its first Travel Ambassador Initiative (TAI) personality. The songstress has been asked to remind South African and other markets that Namibia is great, nearby, easy, world-class tourism destination. The negative local reaction to her appointment shows that many have missed the point.

Fenata is the private sector tourism industry umbrella organization. One of its roles is to represent the interests of its members and support increased tourism to Namibia.

According to their newly appointed Board Chairperson, Netumbo Nashandi, “the TAI is a different tourism growth program for Fenata.”

Having a brand ambassador is a tried and true marketing strategy; it is not new in Namibia. In 2013, Namibia Breweries chose Ivorian footballer Didier Drogba to be the face of Windhoek Lager’s Pan-African advertising campaign. He was a superb non-Namibian brand ambassador for an iconic local product. The nationality of those chosen is less important than the sales/increased demand expected within the market to which they appeal.

Nashandi emphasized that the struggling tourism industry must face the new normal due to the pandemic. “We cannot do the same things the same way. Towards that end, Fenata asked Lerato “Lira” Molapo (41) of Daveyton, South Africa, a talented South African songstress and influencer within her large community of followers, to encourage people to book leisure travel to Namibia.”

Lira makes the point that “Regarding this ambassadorship: I’m a natural fit. I have had a magical six-month experience in the Land of the Brave that has positively impacted my life. There is nothing on earth like Namibia and for South Africans; it’s just on our doorstep. That is the message I want to send to potential travellers in our region. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences and encouraging people to come to experience this life-changing place.”

Lira did not jet into and out of Namibia for a few hours as other foreign ambassadors for local brands have done. She has been to Namibia for long stays over the years and spent considerable time falling in love with the Land of the Brave.

Lira says, “I came to Namibia once again in March 2020. What was meant to be a 21-day stay, turned into six of the most glorious months of my life. I used the opportunity and the incredible pricing specials to explore Namibia to traverse most of this beautiful country and completely fell in love with it. I love the vast open spaces, the magical night skies and the abundance of wildlife. I went on my very first camping experience and absolutely loved it. I received a very warm welcome everywhere I went.

“I have come to feel very much at home in Namibia, I can’t wait to tell everyone about this gem of a place. It’s truly a unique and very special place on earth. I describe it as “pristine” because nature is largely left to thrive and there is minimal human interference”, said the songstress.

Nashandi reiterated that “The impact of the COVID pandemic has been catastrophic for the tourism economy. Local guides have had no work, communal, rural, medical, leisure and business tourism at a standstill. Activity operators are at a standstill. Accommodation establishments are at low to zero capacity. Lodges are shutting down and staffs are being retrenched. The domino effect is devastating.

“People may not realize this but the Tourism Satellite Account (TSA) Report of 2019 states that 79.1 percent of total arrivals to Namibia were from the African continent. This figure includes arrivals from Angola, South Africa and Zambia. These three SADC countries accounted for 36.1 percent, 16.9 percent and 15.4 percent of the arrivals, respectively.

“These huge numbers of arrivals from Africa are not necessarily for leisure purposes. SADC arrivals’ expenditures are lower than the higher spending overseas tourists. But, there are communities of viable SADC leisure travellers that now, due to the pandemic restrictions, cannot travel to their usual European, Asian or North American holiday destinations. How can we entice them to come here instead?

Marketing efforts therefore, to increase inbound leisure travel from nearby cannot be ignored. We need an inroad; a face and voice THEY know to talk about the wonders of nearby, accessible, easy to travel (currency the same and you can drive in), Namibia.”

Prior to COVID-19, in 2019, Namibia welcomed over 1.5 million arrivals. Tourism (direct and indirect) receipts accounted for almost 11 percent of the nation’s GDP. That number will drop significantly for 2020.