Tourism vs potential health risk

The state of emergency has ripped the rug from under the global tourism industry, including Namibia. The industry went toe-to-toe with Tyson Fury (the pandemic) and has been knocked out in the first minute of the first round.

It might be a mistake for the beleaguered industry to push for tourist arrivals regardless of international mandates to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

The nation listened to the pleas from the hospitality, travel, and tourism sector. The nation empathizes with the industry’s struggle to stay in business during this unprecedented health emergency.

Recent reports about their position don’t sound good. It seems they are dangerously close to saying, “Admit anyone immediately who wants to travel to Namibia so we can make money, no matter what. After all, it is only flu.”

If this is the industry’s general plea, they might lose the goodwill they gained in national hearts and minds. Myopic perceptions that the industry is selfish might bubble up.

We urge the industry to rethink their narrative. Control the conversation better. If their position is viewed as one of self-interest, it diffuses balanced talking points. This is not easy.

Perhaps the tourism industry should gather their most adept and culturally diverse negotiators to assist in this matter. They can burn the midnight oil and develop long-shot alternatives.

Consider revealing actual pre-bookings. Gather the numbers (and testimonials) from potential tourists. Show how many clients are chomping at the bit to come to Namibia but are put off by the 14-day quarantine. Are we talking about 50 die-hard tourists or 1,000 waiting for us to re-open? The issue needs perspective.

Get internationally recognized medical information assembled that supports a shorter quarantine. Negotiate about the tourists paying 100 percent of the cost of the quarantine. After all, jobs are going to be saved by their arrival. They will enter and spend foreign currency.

Are there rural luxury tented camps and lodges working with tour operators that can take a group of tourists right off the plane? Perhaps they could move through a special immigration post at the airport. Then, they can get onto a bus (no contact with anyone – organized bathroom stops only) and drive straight to distant scenic facilities? They can spend their paid ‘quarantine’ there. The time can be filled with sundowners and nature drives. They can enjoy animal viewing, and landscape-admiration hikes (though 14 days of this will be tedious).

What about closing Etosha to everyone except the incoming foreign tourists? The entire park becomes the quarantine area. Let the guests move from lodge-to-lodge inside the park and facilities within 10 kilometers from park gates. Operators can plan evening activities. These can include cultural workshops, dancing, and live-streamed local singers for shows. They could host night game drives.

Pay a group of trained freelance tour guides to assist with the workload. They can hold wildlife and conservation classes. They would have to be confined to the park for the duration as they would be in quarantine as well.

The lodges could pay the Namibia Chamber of Environment (NCE) or the Namibian Academy for Tourism and Hospitality (NATH) to give virtual presentations on vulnerable species, poaching, and conservation efforts. Etosha has a serious colonial and cultural history. Stream those virtual ‘history lessons’ to all the camps and resorts in the ‘quarantine area’.

Lodges participating should make sure you have half-priced drinks and drop the room prices given how long the guests would be staying. Include three meals a day in the price. Step up the quality of food available at the lodges and have buffets that include traditional foods. Let the chefs hold Food Network style cooking classes for traditional dishes. Stream these to the entire country! Allow the quarantined tourists to take part in cooking competitions.

The point is that the industry must come with ideas that are radical, outside-the-box, and untried. At the same time, they must show that there is respect for the government’s absolute need to curb the spread of the pandemic.

We doubt that a stampede of high-spending tourists is ready for long-haul travel to Namibia or anywhere else right now. International tourism organizations and agencies have written off 2020. That might have to be Namibia’s position too. Still, new ideas are worth considering.

Let the industry refine and control their message. This way they can be better ‘heard.’

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