The Hospitality Association of Namibia says, although the tourism industry was identified as a key sector for economic growth and job creation under the much-hyped TIPEEG program, the recent budget allocation does not seem to have followed through on the intention to position this industry into the top four sectors of the economy.
Budget allocation for tourism marketing through the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB)was cut in the new budget from N$70 million in the previous budget to N$50 million in the 2012/13 budget while only a few selected areas within tourism such as parastatal infrastructure, (NWR) have benefited without any incentives for the private players in the industry, HAN alleges.
In addition, the hospitality association says that while the ministry responsible for tourism was trying very hard to position Namibia as destination of choice and preference, other government departments were however making it difficult for the ministry to achieve its objectives. To ensure that the country becomes a preferred destination for many tourists, the association says, there is a need for all government departments, that are one way or the other associated with tourism, to sing from the same hymn book.
"Many of the other authorities that have a key role to play in ensuring that the tourism train runs smoothly, from immigration and visa services and labour relations to roads & transport regulations do not seem to show commitment and interest in supporting efforts by the tourism industry to create a level and harmonious playing field for all to provide an attractive, smooth running and affordable tourism experience all round.
"What the tourism industry needs is more buy-in and an understanding of the tourism industry, and more support when it comes to requests for assistance, regulations and facilitation of tourism related operations," the association said.
According to industry figures, the first four months of 2012 have seen a decline in tourist numbers in the group and bus tours category, while the more affordable service providers have seen a rise, particularly budget groups, opting to go for cheaper accommodation. In general, numbers are however still higher than 2010.
"The upper market seems most impacted for this period. Tour guides, mainly freelance, are feeling the pinch, which shows that there are less tours, probably only picking up again as from July. Looking into the future and available bookings, the next six months of this year compared to the last six months of last year look more or less the same currently."
The association says 2012 in general poses a number of challenges such as the global economic situation together with added pressures locally through the introduction of new rules by the Competition Commission and new tax regulations add to what is already perceived to be a challenging time for Namibian tourism enterprises.
The association adds that a major challenge for operators and service providers is the increasing amount of regulations, legislation and restrictions imposed on them in the execution of their duties, be it additional licences and permits, stringent labour laws not conducive to a 24/7 industry such as tourism, added tax laws, added permissions needed to operate, take over or acquire new premises and ventures.
"A strong call has been made to government to consider tourism as "a case for incentives", opening up potential for newcomers into the industry, and enabling established businesses to extend their operations, rather than limiting scope and movement for growth within tourism."
Going forward, the Hospitality Association of Namibia says the best way to address the need for growth in tourism is to diversify approaches to marketing the country as a favourite tourist destination.
"NTB Tourism Office in Frankfurt is creating miracles, given their limited budget, to maintain and strengthen the exposure of Namibia Tourism in the existing tourism market in Europe, as well as extending further into tourism markets in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Their continued nurturing of existing partnerships has strengthened Namibia's good name and image in the European market, and has resulted in slightly more numbers of European travellers to Namibia despite the global decline.
"However, due to a growth in the tourism product in Namibia, with more operators and accommodation and other service providers in the market, there is need to grow numbers coming into the country, hence the need to diversify marketing efforts."