The Namibian government’s swift decision to revoke visa-free entry for 31 countries threatens to reverse the progress made in the country’s tourism recovery, with the most significant impacts expected in the price-sensitive European markets that sustain the sector.

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On May 24, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security (MHAISS) announced that Namibia’s Cabinet had approved the removal of these countries, including most of Namibia’s top overseas tourism sources, from the visa-exempt list due to a lack of reciprocity. Although the implementation date is yet to be set, nationals from the affected countries will now need to obtain visas on arrival, subject to an applicable fee and an online visa application, according to the MHAISS statement.

Gitta Paetzold, CEO of the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN), told Tourism Update that the decision undermines the significant efforts made by the private sector and government to present Namibia as open, easily accessible, and welcoming to travelers and investors.

“For years, the Namibian tourism private sector and the MHAISS have collaborated on enhancing Namibia’s appeal to tourists and potential investors by easing the visa regime, introducing visas on arrival for some countries, and adding to the list of visa-exempt countries,” said Paetzold.

Under former President Hage Geingob, who passed away in February this year while in office, the country initiated several progressive measures to boost visitor numbers, including a remote work visa and expanded visas-on-arrival at border posts.

Paetzold noted that Namibia’s return to pre-COVID arrival levels was largely due to this open approach.

“The new visa requirement for visitors from almost all our main source markets sends an unfortunate message that Namibia is not as welcoming as we have indicated,” Paetzold added.

Concerns Over European Markets

The strong presence of European markets on the list of affected countries is particularly concerning. German-speaking countries Austria, Germany, and Switzerland accounted for 38% of occupancies in April 2024, according to the latest HAN statistics, while other European arrivals made up 22% of all stays.

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“We are concerned that this visa requirement, and the cost of the proposed visas, could reduce the number of mid-range tourists, especially from our key markets in Europe, who are often more price-sensitive, particularly when traveling in family groups,” said Paetzold.

Nationals from the affected countries are expected to pay the general visa-on-arrival fee of N$1,200 (US$65).

Paetzold emphasized that while the industry understands the government’s intent to be an equal partner on the global stage, the country’s economic context must be considered.

“From a Namibian perspective, there may be valid reasons, as Namibia seeks recognition as an equal partner in global travel and trade. However, we must acknowledge that the reasons for travel and the importance of the tourism sector in respective economies differ vastly, making it almost impossible to demand equal practices for different purposes.”

Losing Ground to Competitors

With other African countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique, and Malawi prioritizing the liberalization of their visa regimes, Paetzold expressed concern about the impact on Namibia’s competitiveness and emerging tourism enterprises.

“Global tourism, like water, flows to where it meets the least resistance. We fear that a noticeable amount of our low to middle-market tourism business, increasingly serviced by emerging and start-up companies, could be lost to countries with similar offerings, like South Africa, or other SADC countries, as well as Kenya.”

Minimizing the Impact

Paetzold said Namibia’s organized tourism sector is in discussions with relevant authorities to minimize the potential negative impacts of the new visa policy.

“Tourism in Namibia plays a key role in economic development and foreign exchange earnings, and is a major employer, especially in rural areas. We are keen to uphold our image as an open, easily accessible country to grow tourism numbers,” she concluded.

According to Namibia’s Tourism Satellite Account, the sector contributed 6.9% to the country’s GDP and accounted for 7.9% of total employment in 2022.

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