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.

Damaraland camp is jointly owned by Wilderness Safaris and Torra Conservancy
Damaraland camp is jointly owned by Wilderness Safaris and Torra Conservancy

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

Twyfelfontein Lodge situated by the World Heritage Site has a JV agreement with Uibasen-Twyfelfontein Conservancy and pays an operating fee
Twyfelfontein Lodge situated by the World Heritage Site has a JV agreement with Uibasen-Twyfelfontein Conservancy and pays an operating fee

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.

Grootberg lodge: owned by ≠Khoadi-//Hôas Conservancy
Grootberg lodge: owned by ≠Khoadi-//Hôas Conservancy
Nambwa Lodge
Nambwa Lodge offers luxury within Bwabwata National Park and provides income to Mayuni Conservancy, adjacent to the park. Picture: Gareth Bentley

Growth in the number of JV lodges has been enhanced by the awarding of tourism concessions to conservancies by the MET. 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 MET’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.

Nambwa Lodge
Husband and wife Laskin Mapulanga and Liseli Nahaare: both employed at Nambwa Lodge. Picture: Gareth Bentley
This page was last updated on: 9th December 2019