Named after the King that successfully led 500 men in the Battle of Namutoni in January 1904, King Nehale Conservancy has a historical connection to Etosha National Park. Their recent partnership with Gondwana Collection for a joint venture lodge just outside the park has created a new connection that should serve them well into the future.
Recognising that Etosha National Park has the potential to become an economic engine for communities in the north, MEFT opened the King Nehale Gate on the park’s northern border into the conservancy in 2003. Fifteen years later, the Ministry granted an exclusive tourism concession and traversing rights into the park to King Nehale Conservancy, thus paving the way for the conservancy to negotiate with a joint venture partner for a new lodge.
In 2018, the conservancy signed an agreement with Gondwana Collection as their preferred tourism operator, and in June 2020, the Etosha King Nehale Lodge opened. The lodge reflects the history and culture of the local people, and provides training, skills development and employment for 33 conservancy residents. Tuyoleni Nghishe began his career at King Nehale as a porter, and today is a receptionist at the lodge. "But this isn’t the end. My career will continue to advance because of this joint venture partnership," shared Nghishe.
Despite the low occupancy numbers in 2020 due to COVID-19, Gondwana kept its staff employed, which made all the difference to employees like Selma Paulus. "I am the main breadwinner in my family. My salary pays school fees and puts food on the table. It is essential to my family," said Paulus, who is an assistant chef at the lodge.
There was an upside to the downturn in tourism. With specials available to Namibians, residents of northern Namibia, who may have felt excluded by the tourism industry prior to Namibia’s independence, embraced the lodge, gaining insight into joint venture tourism, the role of conservancies, and the importance of conservation.
The Tulongeni Craft Market is another way in which the conservancy supports the livelihoods of its members. Established in 2013, this market sells crafts produced in the conservancy. The craft producers include two men and 15 women. The women use traditional and recyclable materials to produce baskets, bags and other items, while one of the men carves items from mopane wood and the other makes hats from makalani palm leaves. These producers are based throughout the conservancy.
Linea Shilume, Treasurer of the Craft Market, explains how the market works: “The producer puts a price on their item and the craft centre puts on 10% to cover costs. This money goes to the treasurer, and the price costs goes to the producer.” The sales manager at the Craft Market, Johanna Johannes, describes how this system has helped the crafters: "Prior to the opening of the Market, local women made crafts to use at home or sell at local street markets. They had to sit all day, waiting for a customer, but now the market does this selling for them, freeing up their time for work and time to create more crafts," added Johanna Johannes, sales manager at the Craft Market.
The placemats that adorn the dining tables at Etosha King Nehale Lodge were made by conservancy crafters and sold at the Craft Market. This sale was especially timely for the crafters given the impact on tourism caused by COVID-19. Hileni Nekondo, Chairperson of the Craft Market, said, "These crafts are a source of income for many women in this area. As we make the baskets, we come together to share new patterns and train other crafters with the skills that we have. We have the opportunity to go to various expos across the country to market and sell our handmade products. We are hoping to have the opportunity again in the future."