The growth in community-based tourism
Tourism within communal conservancies is a dynamic and growing sector of the national tourism industry, helping to distinguish Namibia as a destination committed to conservation and community-development objectives. The potential for community-based tourism was enabled by the Namibian government’s visionary amendment of the Nature Conservation Act of 1975, which in1996 returned rights over resource use and management of tourism to communities by enabling the establishment of conservancies.
At the heart of tourism in communal conservancies are joint venture partnerships with private sector business partners that develop and manage lodges. These relationships are formalised through the creation of joint venture (JV) agreements. These partnerships are critical to the growth and development of the tourism sector and the local economy. They reflect the concept of Nature Tourism, namely: responsible travel to natural areas, which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people.
Joint-venture (JV) lodges are an important engine of economic growth in those communal conservancies that are suitable for tourism. They provide direct income to conservancies, which enables them to pay the salaries of game guards and management staff, and for conservation management activities including the prevention of poaching. Income from JV lodges is also allocated as benefits in cash to conservancy members or as social projects in the area. Lodges, and to a lesser extent camp sites, also employ conservancy staff and facilitate the sale of local products, for example crafts.
Types of joint-venture agreements
There is a mix of joint-venture models in place, ranging from simple ‘lease fee’ or ‘rental’ type agreements to those that incorporate ‘community capital’ or ‘community equity’. However, all of them are individually tailored to meet the needs of both parties and the geographical and economic circumstances of the areas where they are situated.
The majority of the agreements are similar to leasehold arrangements in which conservancies, for an operating fee, grant tourism development and traversing rights to tourism operators.
There are other JV lodge agreements in which communities have invested capital into the lodge construction, thereby strengthening their negotiation position in the fee arrangements. In some cases the investment has been structured like a loan, with the tourism business making capital and interest repayments. In a few cases the conservancies have equity shares in the business and receive dividends as and when declared. Unless conservancies can access 100% of the capital requirement (see below), providing capital for a higher return is generally thought better than a minority equity shareholding, where experience has shown that conservancies do not receive the hoped-for dividends, and are potentially exposed to liabilities and debts of the lodge business.
A very few conservancies have been fortunate to have full ownership over the use of the lodge buildings, either through accessing the capital requirements or though acquiring the rights of use over an intact lodge. Anabeb and Omatendeka conservancies, which acquired the use rights over Etendeka Lodge, have an operating JV agreement for their tourism concession in return for a fee. ≠Khoadi-//Hôas Conservancy, which accessed a range of financial products (grants and loans), has a management agreement with a marketing and management company. The main difference is that ≠Khoadi-//Hôas Conservancy is responsible for the capital investment, management fees and losses, but decides on the budget and allocation of any profit. Anabeb and Omatendeka conservancies receive the operating fee, but have no say over the budget and profits from the business.
Growth in the number of JV lodges has been enhanced by the awarding of tourism concessions to conservancies by the MEFT. Tourism concessions in national parks considerably enhance the tourism products that conservancies can offer to prospective JV partners, and a concession in a park improves the negotiation position of a conservancy. The legislative framework for awarding of such concessions is guided by the MEFT’s Policy on Tourism Concessions in national parks.
Tourism and household income
Joint venture lodges play a particularly important role in providing employment and household income. The lodges also create a variety of in-kind benefits to employees, such as training, food and housing, access to transport, medical assistance, education materials and study bursaries.
Marketing conservancies as tourism destinations
Community-based tourism and the new breed of traveller
International tourists are becoming ever more conscious of their impacts on the environment and the people in the countries they visit. There is a general trend away from mass tourism and towards more adventurous, authentic experiences. Visitors from cities and developed countries want to be immersed in nature and gain a new understanding of cultures and lifestyles that are worlds apart from their own.
Conservancies offer the kinds of experiences that this new breed of tourist is seeking – where African wildlife and spectacular landscapes meet indigenous cultures and ancient ways of living. Joint venture tourism partners have recognised the potential of community-based tourism products, and by the end of 2019 there were 63 joint venture agreements between conservancies and the private sector.
Yet there remains scope for growth in this sector, as many conservancies still do not have tourism partners, despite their potential for satisfying the demand for authentic tourism experiences. Furthermore, the success of established lodges leads to increased conservancy incomes, more employment opportunities and the potential for local business enterprises (e.g. craft production) to flourish. As increasing numbers of tourists use the Internet to investigate new destinations, NACSO decided that the time had come to revamp and update a website that markets community-based tourism in Namibia.
Marketing the unique conservancy tourism product
The Minister of Environment, Forestry and Tourism launched the newly updated and expanded Conservation Tourism in Namibia website at the Namibian Tourism Expo in 2019. ConservationTourism.com.na showcases destinations and experiences in every part of the country and introduces potential visitors to the conservancy programme. These include lodges, campsites, living museums and traditional villages, and outlets for craft sales operating in conservancies (not all of these have formal joint venture agreements, while in some cases a lodge and campsite may fall under the same agreement). The latest upgrade makes the site compatible with mobile devices, since more people are starting to use these devices to surf the Internet.
The website targets the adventurous tourist who wants to go ‘off the beaten track’ to find Namibia’s hidden natural gems and discover the diverse cultures of Namibian people. The Where to Go section describes what the visitor can expect from six different geographical areas in Namibia, with links to individual lodges provided in a map of each area. Similarly, What to Do highlights destinations that offer particular activities – for example, experiencing local culture, viewing wildlife and birds, hiking, biking and mountain climbing, fishing and boating. Under the Plan Your Trip section, visitors can find inspiration for journeys based on particular themes (e.g. geology, unique flora, or rural life), or discover destinations that even frequent visitors may have missed during their previous trips.
Several social media accounts have been set up to drive Internet traffic to the site, while the website itself functions as a channel to booking sites for joint venture lodges. As we step into a new decade, more tourists will be on the lookout for new adventures that are ethical, sustainable, and inclusive for indigenous people. Namibian conservancies and their partners are perfectly positioned to deliver just such an experience.
ConservationTourism.com.na will take you there.