Is Namibia Africa’s next tourism success story?  The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) certainly thinks so, ranking it number one in terms of expected growth in sub-Saharan Africa.  Some achievement for a country that was one of the last to gain its independence (from South Africa in 1990) and where tourism only achieved real government recognition quite recently.

And according to research undertaken by the World Economic Forum and the WTTC in 2009, Namibia scores 82nd out of 133 countries in terms of its tourism competitiveness, bettered in sub-Saharan Africa only by Mauritius (40th), South Africa (61st) and Botswana (79th).  Namibia scored better than two of its prime competitors in Africa, Kenya (97th) and Tanzania (98th).

It’s an extraordinary country, offering an incredible mix of experiences to the visitor.  Most famous for the Skeleton Coast, where the Atlantic beaches rise to the highest sand dunes in the world, Swakopmund is now regarded as one of the extreme sports capitals of the world, with water, air and sand adventures of all sorts available.  Namibia also has the Etosha National Park in the north, where the Etosha Pan, a flat saline desert (“the great white place of dry water”) which gives the park its name attracts abundant game and bird life.

Other, but no lesser attractions include the Fish River Canyon in the south, the Caprivi Strip in the north, and the Kalahari Desert in the east.

Sandwiched between Angola and South Africa, and bordered on the east by Zambia and Botswana, Namibia enjoys demand both from the regional market, as well as from Germany, the former colonial power.  The majority of visitors to the country arrive by road – Namibia has one of the best road networks in Africa, with long-distance journeys perfectly acceptable by road as well as by air.  The main nationalities are as follows:

Tourist Arrivals by Nationality
Namibia (2007)
Angola 336,045 36.2%
South Africa 250,038 26.9%
Germany 80,418 8.7%
Zambia 40,709 4.4%
UK 28,214 3.0%
Zimbabwe 26,764 2.9%
Botswana 25,649 2.8%
USA 19,342 2.1%
France 15,019 1.6%
Netherlands 13,282 1.4%
All Others 93,434 10.1%
TOTAL 928,914 100.0%
Sources:   Namibia Statistical Report, 2007

Investment is, as is often the case, from the main markets – in Namibia’s case from South Africa and from Germany, as well as from domestic sources.  One exception to this is Kuwait-based IFA, who have formed OLIFA, a joint venture with the local company Ohlthaver & List. The joint venture has one operating asset, the 106-room Kempinski Mokuti Lodge in Etosha, and is shortly to start construction on the site of the former Strand Hotel in Swakopmund, a “traditional” seaside resort on the Atlantic coast, almost an exact copy of a North Europe Baltic Sea resort, much loved by the German market.  The new 100-room deluxe hotel, intended to be Namibia’s finest, will also be managed by Kempinski, and the project also includes branded hotel residences.  Two further projects are planned for Windhoek and the Caprivi Strip.

Windhoek will also see a new 138-room African Pride hotel opening in 2011, joining Protea’s 10 other hotels in Namibia.  Note that Protea can normally be relied on to pick winners – other countries where they have multiple outlets outside of South Africa include Tanzania and Nigeria, both with excellent growth prospects.  The African Pride will be part of Freedom Plaza, a mixed-use development including also retail, residential, entertainment and office components.  Investors in this scheme are South Africa’s Madison Property Fund Managers, Swish Properties and Redefine Income Fund, with local partner United Africa Group.  An Arabella hotel is also planned in the same scheme.

South African hotel groups dominate the landscape – apart from Protea, Sun International and Legacy are represented in Windhoek and Swakopmund.  But the government is keen to encourage other investors and compared to many other countries has an attractive investment environment characterized by: zero customs

duties on imports from South Africa, low excise duties, relatively low VAT, a relatively stable currency (linked to the rand) and stable political climate. The tax system is conducive to growth through the provision of significant and generous initial capital allowances and accelerated depreciation of assets.

Namibia has a great future as one of Africa’s leading tourism destinations.  The government wants to reduce its dependency on primary industries such as mining and agriculture which, although important, are focused on specific areas, and therefore do not create employment throughout the country – which tourism can do.  Tourism has had a positive impact on resource conservation and rural development.  Some 29 communal conservancies have been established across the country, resulting in enhanced land management while providing tens of thousands of rural Namibians with much needed income.

Trevor Ward

W Hospitality Group, Lagos

trevor.ward@w-hospitalitygroup.com