World Tourism Day (WTD) 2017, commemorated annually on 27 September, and the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development are two observances that raise awareness of how sustainable tourism can contribute to development. These observances are especially relevant in Namibia where tourism is one of the largest contributors to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Sustainable tourism is defined as tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.
Due to its warmer climate, rich cultural history, abundant biodiversity and impressive landscapes, the tourism industry in Namibia has a comparative advantage to other industries. This has allowed for steady growth in the sector, resulting in increased revenue and job creation and subsequently impacting the livelihoods of many Namibians.
Namibia’s cultural tourism is a fairly fresh concept for visitors that have traditionally flocked to the country hoping to embark on an eco-lodge holiday or a coastal expedition to see the endless dunes. Tour companies offer home stays, camping accommodations and the chance to experience traditional craft-making, story-telling, activities and cuisine of local tribes. The overall experience offers a glimpse into the vibrant and ancient traditions of tribal groups in Namibia.
Cultural tourism provides an excellent opportunity to expand Namibia’s tourism sector in a new and distinctive way; however, this form of tourism is not without its drawbacks. Cultural tourism carries a very hefty responsibility—as it does in any country rich in history and diversity. It requires that governments constantly take stock of the advancements happening in its most well-preserved cultural communities and exercise a reflexive self-awareness as these sensitive communities develop and are subsumed into the hustle and bustle of the tourism sector.
The recent expansion of Namibia’s cultural tourism coincides with the release of Namibia’s 5th National Development Plan (NDP 5). Bearing significance, the NDP 5 underscores the importance of developing promotional and marketing strategies that corral the appeal of Namibian cultural tourism to the fore of African travel. The NDP 5 stresses the importance of attracting investors for infrastructure and super infrastructure development projects that will enable the niche to expand and accrue international recognition and unearth stable profits. The plan also calls for the inclusion and diversification of tourism products; products like cultural tourism, to ensure that these new products are able to circumvent growth blocks and regulative impediments, and participate in industry wide conversations that address growth and sustainability. By innovatively expanding its tourism sector, Namibia hopes there will be substantial returns, including: increased employment, poverty reduction, rural development, and increased revenue.
To avoid an adverse outcome where Namibia’s vulnerable cultural groups become emulsified with modernization —and to resist the steadfast clasp of globalization, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to prevent cultural erosion by promoting national legislation and policies that ensure preservation, empowerment, and of course, sustainability, as communities begin to open up to tourism.
The SDGs continue to build on a pre-existing policy framework that was developed and executed by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The SDGs, spurred by the tailwinds of the MDGs, continue to promote: the knowledge of and preservation of cultural groups, ensuring sustainable livelihoods are achievable through cultural tourism, and the implementation of social development within cultural development policies, to ensure cultural groups can benefit and become empowered by tourism projects.
Additionally, UNESCO has supported a Development Joint Programme with the ILO, UNEP, and UN-Habitat, that aims to alleviate extreme poverty and empower women through cultural tourism. The program hopes to achieve these goals by engineering a strategic partnership with Namibia’s government. However, as outlined by reports that documented the struggles of the national framework policy employed by the MDGs, cultural tourism has been hampered by two main forces: cultural resources were not being distributed evenly among cultural groups and some cultural groups were not being recognized by the cultural tourist initiative. The Development Joint Programme intends to overcome these problems by waging for government action that supports national ownership and local participation, and recognizes the need to protect environmental and cultural assets.
Harnessing the rigorous strategies and recommendations of the NDP 5, the Tourism Investment Strategy, and the MGD-F Cultural and Development Joint Programme, Namibia hopes to expand its cultural tourism in a sustainable manner. It is important to realize the benefits and the risks of such development; as 13 new tourists translates to 1 Namibian job, but without social development policies and local ownership, the empowerment of Namibia’s vulnerable cultural communities could be hindered by predatory business practices. It then becomes vital to involve all stakeholders involved in the cultural tourism project so that they possess the agency to shape the sector’s future and ensure the preservation, longevity and tangible earnings from its activities. The other reason being, the ornate lifestyles and intrinsic beauty of tribal cultures are enriched perspectives that every Namibian tourist should have the opportunity to embrace.
MGD-F Cultural and Development Joint Programme
Tourism Investment Strategy
MDG’s Sustainable Cultural Tourism in Namibia