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Namibia: Relief for Tourism, but Industry Not Out of the Woods

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By Gerrit van Rooyen

NKC African Economics.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on the local travel and tourism industry, and it seems unlikely that a return to pre-corona virus activity will be achieved in the near term.

Tourism is a cornerstone of the economy, with the sector supporting nearly 110,000 jobs and contributing over N$25 billion, about 15% to to the GDP. Concerningly, the latest data shows that international travellers have been very slow to return to the desert economy in the wake of the ‘Great Lockdown’. There are, however, some anecdotal reports that suggest a modest recovery could be emerging from November, following the increase relaxation of containment measures from mid-October.

Initially, foreign tourist were only allowed to enter Namibian via the Hosea Kutako International Airport outside Windhoek from 1 September and only if they followed strict health procedures. These measures included: that traveller present a negative Covid-19 test not older than 72 hours on arrival, that they do another test on the fifth day after arrival, and that they self isolate at their first place of accommodation for the first seven days.

Since then, four land border post as well as the Walvis Bay harbour have been reopened. Furthermore, tourists are also no longer obliged to complete the seven day seclusion period or the test on the fifth day, provided that they present a negative test that is not older than 72 hours.

The reopening of the land borders is significant, as the points of entry for 72% of all tourist arrivals in 2018 were land borders, a majority of these were Angolans and Zambians visiting friends and family. Members of the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) and other stakeholders in the industry have welcomed the further relaxation of international travel restrictions, but they have also made an appeal to the government to think out of the box to salvage some of the expected bleeding of jobs and income in the industry. The stakeholders have suggested that the government also allow free travel between Namibian and South Africa and allow for short-term visits of less than a week.