We need support to promote Namibia- Gys Joubert, Gondwana Collection Namibia CEO

This week Observer Money speaks to Gys Joubert, Gondwana Collection Namibia CEO about business in the aftermath of Covid-19.

Observer Money (OM): Describe Gondwana’s recovery from the Covid 19 pandemic?

Gys Joubert (GJ): I would describe it as measured. We are grateful that tourism is returning on quite an aggressive trajectory, but the impact of COVID-19 will linger for years to come. We turned profitable in the second half of 2022 and the changes and decisions we made during COVID-19 are enabling our ability now to repay debt incurred during the crisis.

(OM): What is the current state of the tourism and hospitality industry?

(GJ): We are in a recovering phase, but tourism overall is healthy, and I believe that as a nation we truly realised the importance and impact of tourism when we lost it for a brief period during COVID-19.

(OM): What lessons did Gondwana learn from the pandemic?

(GJ): There are so many, but let me focus on the following:

The importance of our people and our culture. – We are in the service industry. We are more than just a company – we try to be a movement for good and with all this in mind we knew we had to protect our people. The importance of culture, of confidence and empowerment can be seen only now after we have come through this crisis. We are a people centred organisation and we now see the importance more than ever.

The strength of human resolve. – When we look back at everything that we had to go through, it is difficult to understand how we managed to get through it. As humanity, I think we underestimate the depth of our own power to push through difficult times. When you tackle a crisis with purpose and the resolve to maintain your pursuit of the meaningful, one can discover meaning so profound that it protects you even from the fear of death. When you continue to do the right thing especially when it is extremely difficult to do so, the universe conspires in your favour and things just fall into place. Namibians carried us through – our financiers and shareholders, our employees – we all came together, and we refused to give in or give up. We believe the lesson is that if we as a nation continue to stand up for what is right and just, nothing can stand in our way to prosperity for all.

(OM): During the pandemic we saw an increase in Namibians visiting tourism establishments as lodges and hotels offered special offers but admittedly after the recovery from the pandemic, the hospitality industry has been accused of going back to focus on international tourists, what is your comment on this?

(GJ): We at Gondwana Collection Namibia introduced the Gondwana Card for Namibian (50% discount on accommodation) and SADC (40% discount on accommodation) citizens’ benefits more than 15 years ago already. These discounts were never a once off or a COVID-19 special. It is a permanent benefit and will remain as such. To us it is extremely important that Namibians as well as SADC citizens can share in and enjoy the beauty that our country has to offer.

(OM): Gondwana recently got into a new joint venture with Klein Okapuka for the management of Okapuka Safari Lodge and another management deal with The Weinberg Windhoek, would you explain why you got into these ventures?

(GJ): After COVID-19 we simply do not have the capital to acquire big assets ourselves, nonetheless we still have our brand, our people and our skills. We knew we could use these to the benefit of Gondwana Collection Namibia and our joint venture partners on strategic assets. We will remain very conservative on these opportunities and only do this on strategic assets, but this also speaks to the flexibility of the Gondwana approach and business model. We must evolve with time.

(OM): What are the growth and expansion plans of Gondwana in Namibia?

(GJ): We believe that growth first and foremost starts with an attitude. We try to be better every day in whatever it is that we ought to do. If you don’t, you go backwards because the world today is all about constant change. We are currently in more of a consolidation phase, however we are constantly working on new products, both physical and digital, for the Namibian and regional markets.

(OM): What are some of the challenges faced by Gondwana and the rest of the hospitality industry in the current economic environment?

(GJ): Inflation causes cost pressures, which in turn places pressure on margins. The high interest rate environment makes the COVID-19 debt burden more expensive and the general cost of capital higher, which adds further pressure on future capital allocation decisions.

(OM): What kind of incentives and policy measures do you think the government must offer for hospitality/tourism to be sustainable?

(GJ): The land tenure rights in communal areas must be addressed. The investment there can only be done with cash since the land there cannot be offered as collateral. This is for both investors and for the communities living in those areas. We need more government support to promote Namibia as a destination and as a brand. We have so much to offer the world of travel, but it is a competitive landscape and we are competing against all other countries in the world. Tourism has a sustainable impact on job creation especially youth employment and rural employment. We need to ensure that we are top priority for government.

(OM): Have the foreign tourists started returning to Namibia and how does Namibia compare and compete with other destinations such as Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa and others?

(GJ): Yes, they have, however as stated above it is a competitive landscape. Our relative security and value for money offerings stand us in good stead but those destinations are also working hard to attract visitors to their shores. Tourism is also not always only Namibia focused, but more regional, hence we have to work with our neighbours especially Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa to ensure seamless travel between countries.

(OM): Describe to us the operations of Gondwana, how many establishments do you own and manage?

(GJ): Our various offerings ranging from campsites, Camping2Go properties and lodges/hotels, in addition to the recent joint ventures with The Weinberg Windhoek and Okapuka Safari Lodge, we currently operate 48 unique accommodation offerings peppered across the Namibian countryside, which are fittingly located in close proximity to iconic tourism destinations.

(OM): How many people do you employ?

(GJ): We are relatively close to 1200 employees, as by 31 October 2022 we were 1144 employees.

(OM): Is there anything that you may wish to add?

(GJ): Gondwana Collection Namibia is proudly Namibian born, Namibian owned and Namibian based and we always remain committed to our country.

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