Win first – then run the tourism victory lap

Headlines blaring: ‘Tourists to return’ or ‘Namibia to open borders’ need to be examined carefully. The small print ‘terms and conditions’ for stages 4 and 5 of the re-opening, make those headlines too broad. Let us not raise expectations that cannot be met. It is important to not run a victory lap before the race is run.

The hospitality, travel and tourism industry is failing and it is hurting tens of thousands of Namibians. No tourists = no tourism revenue = sector collapse. We know the industry is in pain. We do not envy policymakers who are juggling sharp knives to find solutions.

Stages 4 and 5 are specific; the doors are not being flung open. Perhaps big players in the tourism sector are lobbying for a fast re-opening at all costs? Often a drowning man will grab the one trying to save him and they BOTH drown. Logic is needed here.

There are Namibians not in support of reopening borders. There is a justifiable perception that the people coming in are the ones bringing the virus. Our local pandemic protective measures are full of holes. Many have no idea about social spacing. Significant numbers wear no masks or wear them wrongly. The masks being worn are not those recommended to block the virus. Washing of hands has slipped considerably. Cases are increasing; testing is still very low. Are we ready to open up when we are so inconsistent about protection?

Tourism will not recover this year. We must see what 2021 can bring. This is a harsh reality for the entire world.

Stages 4 and 5 present significant barriers in the re-opening process.

Brave tourists who want to come to Namibia must travel with negative test result certificates. However, such certificates will be in foreign languages depending on where the tourist is from. How would anyone at our border posts know what they are looking at?

Tourism hopefuls can only arrive from low COVID infection countries.

A glance at the WHO list of countries with the least COVID impact as of June 23rd include: Bhutan, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, East Timor, Grenada, Laos, Fiji, Vatican, and Papua New Guinea. The billion-dollar Namibian tourism industry has never been fuelled by tourism from these countries and that won’t start now.

Namibia’s traditional tourism arrival countries South Africa, German-speaking countries, the UK, Italy, France, Nordic countries, the USA and Canada are overflowing with new cases of infection and death from the pandemic. Are these countries on the same timeline for opening up as Namibia is? That matters.

Once brave tourists arrive in Namibia, they have to be in quarantine at their own expense, for 14 days! If a tourist has only three weeks holiday from their jobs, they would spend all of their money and time in a quarantine facility (not of their choosing) of dicey quality and cleanliness levels, eating who knows what and enduring unknown service provision levels. Why would they subject themselves to that? Rather stay home and visit a local beach or nearby spa.

Finally, when they are tested again here and provided they are cleared, they get the pleasure of going straight back to the airport and flying back home. There, they could be quarantined AGAIN upon arrival.

Tourism and hospitality industry companies will still go under. Tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs will remain lost. There will be no big international meetings and conferences in 2020. Perhaps the government will begin having meetings and seminars in hotels since 250 people could be in one location from June 30th. But budgets for such things were already eliminated even before the pandemic hit.

Rather than placing an emphasis on re-opening timelines in a vacuum, why not increase the Namibia Tourism Board’s (NTB) budget 10 fold right now. What happened to the N$400 million promised for tourism?

Marketing should advertise that this beautiful destination is back online when the smoke clears. Let’s produce a beautifully shot virtual tour of Namibian iconic locations and culture. We could put it online and send it to overseas agents. Let us tease the timid travelling public.

The private sector can play ball by cutting room and activities prices significantly. Government should use some of that promised money for partial subsidies when warranted.

Those wanting to fast track tourism recovery in Namibia surely know that countries are economically hard hit by the pandemic. They have lost millions of jobs; salaries are slashed, and businesses have gone bankrupt. Financial instability is frightening people with disposable income into not spending.

Let us tone down the headlines shouting about tourists returning to Namibia. That is not the whole story; not even close. We can run victory lap of tourism revival in Namibia only after the race is complete.

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