Hospitality Association welcomes relaxed travel measures
By Gitta Paetzold
CEO Hospitality Association of Namibia.
The announcement by the President HE Dr Hage Geingob on 21 October has caused great relief and jubilation to the tourism sector.
After 7 months of what was felt like a severe drought in this sector due to the international travel ban, regional lockdowns and restrictions, yesterday’s announcement for the first time gives real hope for a tourism revival.
The measures put in place are fair and acceptable, and do, we believe, strike a perfect balance between limiting the risk of further transmission of the corona virus and providing the tourism sector with a conducive platform to conduct business in the hope of slowly reviving this very fragile industry.
The Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) and all other organised tourism bodies have worked very hard since March, to find ways to overcome the international crisis caused by Corona, – using the times of lockdown and severe restrictions to devise risk mitigation measures, not only for the survival of the business, but also in view of the safe re-opening of the industry.
Since April, work has been done on the Namibian Tourism Safety Protocols, a toolkit that has guided the hospitality and catering industry since May in providing a safe environment for visiting Namibian tourists. These guidelines have been further extended to cover all sectors of tourism and have been perfected by the Namibia Tourism Board to receive international praise and recognition.
This toolkit, and the expertise and dedication of Namibian tourism stakeholders makes us feel confident that Namibia is ready to host the world in a safe, hygienic and comfortable environment, providing the necessary measures in terms of hygiene, whereas our beautiful country assists us to provide the necessary social distancing almost as a natural bonus to most, if not all of the tourism products and activities that attract people to our country.
HAN would like to thank the Namibian President and all our leaders who have been working extremely hard to ensure that as a country, Namibia overcomes the challenges that the corona pandemic has posed.
Through the open-door policy, intense discussions, negotiations and information exchange, and most of all, the willingness and dedication of authorities to listen to the calls of tourism, Namibia, as a united team, was able to reach a compromise in balancing the importance of health and saving lives, and ensuring that livelihoods of the Namibian people can be saved. It is this teamwork and dedication, that has once again made Namibia lead the rest in terms of advancing towards a new normal in the travel industry, and we as tourism organisation are most grateful to have leaders who are willing to go the extra mile for us and the country as a whole.
Looking at the tourism statistics over the past 9 months, and witnessing the desperation in particularly Namibia’s rural areas, where many communities and conservancies heavily depend on tourism for a source of income, – the tourism revival initiative and the 21 October announcement by His Excellency could not have come at a better time.
According to the most recent HAN Statistics, and as was to be expected, the occupancy numbers until September were still alarmingly low, the total occupancy for the 3rd quarter 2020 (July, August & September) at under 8%, compared to over 64% during the same time last year.
At least, we were able to report a slight increase in occupancy from the 2nd quarter, (April – June), which were the months of extreme travel ban and lock-down,- during which we recorded some 4,5% only, most of which was from quarantine accommodation to home-coming Namibians, while the third quarter shows a 7,97% occupancy, the bulk of which was still from quarantine accommodation, but also contains some leisure travel.
Mid-September saw Namibia end its State of Emergency and the opening of its first travel access points, – the International Airport, and since October, some land borders are open for leisure travel too.
It was our sincere hope (and absolute necessity to salvage what is left of this year, and the tourism sector), to see further relaxation of travel restrictions to encourage more cross-border and international travel to Namibia.
While the domestic market will remain dear and supported by industry,- the tourism industry will only be able to survive, if and when the flow of international travel, including cross-border travel from South Africa and the KAZA region is promoted and increased considerably.
The tourism industry stands ready to receive international guests, the travel protocols that contain measures for increased safety and hygiene have been implemented and tested since May by the domestic market, and reports from the few international travellers entering Namibia since mid-September confirm the effectiveness and professional way in which Namibian service providers are operating to ensure that guests feel comfortable.
The local tourism industry is confident that it can accommodate and successfully execute safe and comfortable travel for the local, regional and international guests coming to Namibia, and is delighted at the relaxation of travel restrictions and the wider opening of our border gates, to allow for the return of our tourists, and the successful execution of Namibia’s tourism revival initiative.