Tourism's silver lining all but gone

13 January 2022 | Tourism

Windhoek • [email protected]

If you thought 2020 – the year that Covid-19 hit the world – was bad, 2021 was much worse, says Gitta Paetzold, chief executive of the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN).
She said that efforts to revive tourism and restore it to its full glory last year were thwarted by “sustained blows” when the devastating third wave of the pandemic hit the country in mid-2021. This was followed by global travel restrictions in southern Africa due to the appearance of Omicron late last year, just when a silver lining finally began to appear and the tourism industry began to raise its head again.
“Large-scale cancellations due to the travel ban, the constant review of and also the introduction of stricter travel restrictions, have led to worldwide reluctance to plan and undertake long-distance travel, because ad hoc decisions by governments are constantly changing the rules and regulations.
“Travel restrictions and / or quarantine have resulted in prospective travellers losing their confidence in long-term planning,” Paetzold said.
Because Namibia is a long-distance destination with the majority of its income from tourism coming from the international market, Paetzold admits that the setbacks have caused a “huge blow to our industry”.
“While perseverance and persistence was our slogan for 2020, the repeated setbacks and cancellations in late 2021 may have dealt the final blow to the survival of a number of tourism businesses,” she says.
The early prognosis by some critics that Covid-19 will negatively affect international travel and that tourism will only return to the old normal levels in 2024 or 2025, now seems to be a reality, says Paetzold.
Despite the reluctance to embark on international travel, Namibia's largest source markets and especially those in the European Union (EU) still show great interest in what the country says it offers - pristine open spaces, sparsely populated areas, relatively strong and healthy infrastructure in terms of roads, communication and health. These factors still make the country a very popular travel destination.
Although Namibia has lost valuable discussions from markets such as the US due to, among other things, the return to regulation for a negative PCR test result not older than 72 hours, Paetzold says the EU market remains predominantly “strong and willing to travel”.
“The hope is that the flow of tourists from international markets will pick up again by the middle of this year.”

Rules for all
She stressed that it is crucial for all tourism around the world, not just in Namibia, that leaders and governments agree to “one practical, workable and acceptable travel regulation for all”.
“The past two years have proven that travel restrictions for regions or countries have not stopped the spread of the virus and have only caused huge losses in the travel industry. It seems that the closure of national borders, hospitality establishments and restaurants is the first and often only regulation that has been applied - with huge disadvantages for the travel industry and little impact on curbing the spread of the virus.”
Paetzold emphasized compliance with the basic rules for hygiene and sanitation and for people to take own responsibility. “There is great value in sharing information and responsibility. This applies not only to basic practices, but also to the approach to vaccines as the most effective way to curb the global effects of the virus.”
Rather than focusing on testing and quarantine, health officials should strive to share information and promote vaccination campaigns as an effective remedy against the pandemic.
Referring to last year, Paetzold said travel restrictions imposed on countries in southern Africa in an effort to curb the spread of Omicron have led to Namibia incurring huge losses “of hundreds of millions of Namibia dollars” due to cancellations by both the EU and US markets suffered.
For some tourism companies, this was the final blow, as their financial resources were totally depleted. “The closure of companies is clear and social media is full of offers of accommodation facilities and tourism companies that are being offered for sale, as well as news of huge job losses.”
Paetzold said HAN can only hope that governments will realize the need to put in place reasonable regulations, open up travel and allow the industry to return to their normal activities. “A reasonable, general and open approach to the travel and tourism industry will enable it to return to some form of normalcy.”

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