WINDHOEK– Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta has painted a gloomy picture of the tourism industry, saying the country will lose more than N$20 billion over the next few months because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Tourist receipts contribute about 10 percent of Namibia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but it has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
By 24 May 2020, more than 5,4 million COVID-19 infections and more than 345 000 deaths had been recorded worldwide. Most countries have imposed lockdowns and travel restrictions to stop the spread of the virus. The tourism sector worldwide is one of the biggest casualties of the lockdowns and travel restrictions.
Shifeta said the tourism industry, largely driven by international arrivals, faces severe challenges which could result in massive job loses, revenue slumps and a prolonged recovery period due to the crippling effects of the COVID-19.
“The tourism industry will experience zero international tourist arrivals for the next three months and the situation is most likely to continue till the end of December due to COVID-19,” Shifeta said.
“We face a realistic challenge of losing billions, as much as N$20 billion, while livelihoods of rural folk who rely on incomes from conservation are also most likely to be eroded severely.”
The Namibian minister was at pains to explain the challenges that Covid had inflicted on the Namibian and regional tourism industry resulting in the country calling for a major bailout from well-wishers and partners in the industry to sustain the salaries of more than 2000 conservation workers
The Namibian and SADC tourism industries constitute a significant portion of the hotel and tourism industry which is operating at way below capacity and only able to cater for take away clients. Hotels are not allowed to take any bookings for fear of spreading COVID-19.
“We are grateful of the support from the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) as well as other stakeholders including the Environmental Investment Fund (EIF),” Shifeta said after receiving a N$16 million grant from the two organisations. The grant is expected to ease the burden of paying the salaries of conservation workers scattered across the Southern African country.
“We need to start encouraging our locals to exploit the tourism opportunities that our industry has to offer. Our people need to start visiting the different resorts in their countries and those offering services need to come up with prices that will suit the less spending locals,” he said.
UNDP Country Representative to Namibia, Alka Bhartia said the tourism industry, normally a reliable cash cow to Namibia and the SADC region, is one of the sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are very keen on working with governments to find lasting solutions and save thousands of jobs that are on the line because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bhartia said.