Domestic catalyst imperative to resuscitate tourism and hospitality industry
By Josef Kefas Sheehama.
Tourism is an important economic activity in Namibia as a tool for development and generating economic benefits. The recovery of the tourism industry has hence been a prevalent topic since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected the industry significantly through external and internal travel bans and border closures.
In order to revive the tourism industry, the Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism has to focus on domestic tourism and marketing the country as a safe holiday destination. I am fully aware that the Namibian Tourism Board is the official travel and hospitality governing body of Namibia, but the ministry’s attention is critical.
Tourism continues to be one of the sectors hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the outlook remains highly uncertain. Therefore, domestic tourism can be used as an alternative to drive the economy and improve business performance.
Although domestic tourism may offer a quick recovery to the industry, it has also been severely impacted by COVID-19 containment measures. The crisis is a call for governments at all levels to take strong and coordinated policy action to mitigate the impacts and support the recovery.
The government should focus on initiatives to support the hospitality industries when tabling the budget for 2022/2023. The structural and physical changes to tourist destinations would be required to address health requirements and visitor expectations.
The government should also provide more financial relief to help businesses to reduce costs, spur demand and alleviate cash flow issues until travel volumes recover.
While flexible solutions are needed to enable the tourism economy to live alongside the virus in the short to medium term, it is important to look beyond this and take steps to learn from the crisis which has revealed gaps in government and industry preparedness and response capacity. The crisis is an opportunity to rethink tourism for the future.
Tourism is at a crossroads and the measures put in place today will shape the tourism of tomorrow.
Governments need to consider the longer-term implications of the crisis, while capitalizing on digitization, supporting the low carbon transition, and promoting the structural transformation needed to build a stronger, more sustainable and resilient tourism economy.
The sector also risks being among one of the last to recover, with the ongoing travel restrictions and the global recession. This has consequences beyond tourism since there are many ancillary businesses that also depend on the wellbeing of mainstream tourism.
Quantifying the current and future impacts of the crisis on the tourism sector is challenging, with the crisis exposing shortcomings in tourism statistical information systems, including a lack of robust, comparable and timely data to inform policy and business decisions.
For tourism to recover, the government need to develop a phased approach. However, due to continued containment measures, the potential of domestic tourism remains constrained. This crisis may exert a significant and long-standing impact on consumer behaviour, thereby accelerating the transition to digitization, placing greater emphasis on health and hygiene, and increasing the demand for contactless experiences.
This crisis is an opportunity to rethink the tourism system for the future, as the measures implemented today will shape the tourism of tomorrow. Governments need to consider the longer-term implications of the crisis, and the structural transformation required to build a stronger, more sustainable and resilient tourism economy.
Namibia needs to ensure continuous innovation and transformation in the sector, and provide investments to make structural and physical changes for addressing health requirements and visitors’ expectations in the first phase of recovery.
With the proper strategy and incentives, domestic tourism can lead the rebound in the early phase of recovery. This can include product innovation and pricing reforms to cater for domestic tourists and keep up with new tourist demands.
Empowering communities involved in domestic tourism and emphasizing sustainability and responsible practices are pertinent to rebuilding the domestic tourism industry. The continuing pandemic, closure of international borders, and travel bans have prevented international tourism. Thus, domestic tourism is deemed to be an alternative strategy to rebuild the tourism industry.
In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped the business landscape and affected the economy significantly; subsequently, a ‘new normal’ has emerged, and changes are inevitable. The outbreak of COVID-19 has altered existing business operations and the landscape of the economy. Hence, the key elements, such as safety and health, collaboration and partnership efforts, digital communication and marketing, flexibility in bookings and cancellations, crisis management, and resilient strategies, encapsulate the new tourism business model.