Pandemic batters pre-Covid 19 tourism optimism

11 August 2021 | Tourism

Windhoek • [email protected]

An August 2021 United Nations report on Namibian tourism documents the extreme plunge of the sector’s optimism for the future in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The report, “Covid-19 Socio-Economic Impact Assessment on Tourism in Namibia” is a co-assessment study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the environment ministry and was launched today.
The study contains findings that underline the harrowing impact of Covid-19 related policies around the world and locally on the tourism industry, and includes recommendations to help revive the industry going forward.
Of the 485 participants surveyed, 83% said they were very optimistic pre-Covid about their future in the industry as well as the sector overall.
However, this outlook took a dramatic turn after March 2020, when the tourism industry was effectively shuttered in the wake of the first reported cases of Covid-19.
By December, 75% of the respondents who had previously been very optimistic, had adopted a pessimistic outlook for their own survival in the tourism industry as well as the industry overall.
The assessment found that “the number of businesses with a negative outlook on future prospects of their tourism business increased more than sixfold” from 9% prior to the pandemic to 59% post-Covid-19.
Moreover, regarding optimism surrounding recovery in the tourism industry, the 83% that were optimistic before Covid-19 experienced a fourfold decline, with 60% now being pessimistic about the future.
As of December, half of all businesses surveyed believed it would take six months or more for businesses to resume to pre-Covid operations, while less than 15% believed that recovery would take place before June this year.
Of those surveyed, 28% admitted they “have no idea” when business will return to normal.
“All of this proves to show how pessimistic the view from business owners is regarding a rapid recovery, and the extent of the uncertainty that the pandemic has brought about in the tourism sector,” the report notes.

Pandemic wrecking ball
Moreover, “a whopping 35% of businesses surveyed claim that there is a possibility for closure due to Covid-19, especially if lasts beyond June 2021. Particularly troubling is that only less than 3 out of 10 businesses can confirm that there is no risk of closure, and almost two in five are uncertain about the future of their activity,” the study reports.
The assessments also found that 27% of business owners indicated they are considering leaving the industry altogether. Among those who had already left the sector, most have taken up selling foods, turned to charcoal production, or have begun to work in supermarkets, taxi services, administrative work, selling livestock and gardening among others.
The study’s multidimensional vulnerability index (MVI) revealed that with a vulnerability threshold of six out of 13 possible indicators, 78% of surveyed businesses are vulnerable, and that a closer look showed 60% of companies lack the capacity to cope with the consequences of the pandemic.
The total closure of borders and businesses dealt a heavy blow especially to tourism businesses such as restaurants, hotels, tour guides and transport operators who suffered a 97% drop in demand and a 93% decline in revenue at one point during the pandemic.
More than 50% of surveyed entities reported retrenchments and wage reductions at the time of the survey as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.
Concerning women employment, one in four women employed in the tourism sector have lost their job, the report states. Furthermore, 79% of businesses report having to reduce staff working hours, with one in four workers transitioning to part-time work.
The impact assessment found that parks, community forests and conservancies were heavily impacted. Some reported a 50% and 63% decline in visitors and half declared not having earned any income at all since the State of Emergency in March 2020.
“The lack in earnings has disrupted the functioning of these protected areas, hindering their capability to pay for fuel for vehicles and machinery, constraining the purchase of new camping equipment for staff working on water provision for wildlife, law enforcement and general parks patrols as well as cancelling annual general meetings crucial to collect feedback on the community forests’ achievements or challenges faced during the pandemic.”

Future
The report was a key discussion point at this week’s industry stakeholder working session on the way forward for the industry in the aftermath of Covid-19.
During discussions, Dr. Heinrich Bohlmann from the University of Pretoria, a consultant on the study, noted that despite the fragile situation, the study contained key policy recommendations and action that could boost recovery going forward. He urged that the crisis should “not go to waste” in terms of the opportunities for long-term reform it contains.
Bohlmann warned that in terms of the short-term prospects, tourism activity will remain “well below pre-pandemic levels” without targeted interventions.

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