Staff Writer

The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism has announced protocols guiding the international tourism revival initiative which comes into effect next month.

The initiative is a government plan aimed at providing a lifeline to the country’s tourism sector which is on the verge of collapse due to the closure of the borders as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

This announcement comes after two failed attempts by government to open the borders to international tourist arrivals due to increases in infection rates in different parts of the country. In addition, the working group of the ministry, NTB, and representatives of the private sector tourism associations had different perspectives on how to re-open the country safely and viably.

“We are all aware that the tourism sector has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic due to the closure of borders and the complete absence of visitors from abroad over the past months. This has had a terrible impact on direct and indirect beneficiaries of the tourism sector such as hotels, communal conservancies, souvenir vendors, tour guides, travel agents, airlines, vehicle rental companies, tour operators, hunting operators as well as restaurants and entertainment facilities,” Tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta said on Tuesday.

“The implementation protocols being announced here today aim to get the critical tourism and hospitality sector back up and running by putting in place the necessary measures and good practices to regulate sector in the context of COVID-19.”

Germany and German-speaking European countries like Switzerland and Austria were identified as the target market for the initiative, due to their previous high volume arrivals to Namibia. Also, initially the relatively high marks these countries have received internationally for their efficient handling of the pandemic put them in a good position to be allowed entry to Namibia more safely.

The previous plan was characterized by the demand for 14 days in quarantine at their own cost upon arrival to Namibia and a lack of full agreement from industry players, resulted in a deadlock over its contents. Shifeta said the new plan had the buy-in of key stakeholders.

“These protocols have been subjected to a comprehensive consultative process and have now been signed off by my ministry; Minister of Health and Social Services and the Minister of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security. The protocols will come into effect from 1st September 2020, which will signal the re-opening of Hosea Kutako International Airport to international travelers,” he said.

“It is imperative to note that this initiative targets leisure travelers and will be reviewed bi-weekly and amended if necessary as implementation proceeds. All visitors will be required to adhere to the prevailing safety and health regulations in terms of the COVID-19 State of Emergency.”

Shifeta said visitors, accommodation establishments and the tourism industry will be required to adhere to the protocols.

“This is a fine balancing act and these implementation protocols are designed to help us ensure that international tourists are still able to visit Namibia without compromising the public health of Namibians or their own health,” he said.

According to the requirements, entry to the country will only be allowed through Hosea Kutako International Airport, all travelers must present a negative PCR test result, not older than 72 hours before boarding their flight in order to be allowed to enter Namibia.

All travelers will be required to stay isolated for seven days at their first stop on their itinerary. They must be tested at those facilities before being allowed to move on with their holidays. Their entire trip plan must be submitted when they enter the country. There are other requirements as well.

However, concerns have now been raised over Germany’s recent spike in COVID infections and deaths. As of August 25, the country has 236,516 confirmed cases and 9,337 deaths.

Windhoek’s increased daily rate of infection as well as those at the Coast are also a point of concern.

As Namibia lifts its restrictions on international arrivals and departures, there is no guarantee that tourists will immediately flock to this country’s facilities. Issues regarding whether tourists returning from Namibia will have to be quarantined on their arrival back home are also unclear. Availability of air flights to Namibia from Germany on the date of re-opening are also unclear.