The adventure coast of Namibia

TOURISM MECCA … Swakopmund is one of the most visited towns in Namibia by tourists, as it is believed to be a link between all other tourism activities throughout the country. Tanja Hartman calls the town a perpetual holiday destination.

The Erongo region, often heralded as the ‘adventure coast of Namibia’, plays a vital role in the country’s tourism sector.

Almuth Styles of Namib-I tourism information centre at Swakopmund, a prominent figure in regional tourism promotion for decades, emphasised Erongo’s unique position in Namibia’s tourism landscape.

“We are the link between the north and the south,” she said, making reference to bustling activities ranging from rock climbing to skydiving and living desert tours.

“It’s not just the adventure, it’s the diversity of experiences that makes Erongo special.”

The region is not only a haven for adventure seekers but also a cultural and historical hotspot. With destinations like Swakopmund drawing tourists for extended stays, Erongo blends scenic beauty with a relaxed atmosphere.

“Especially during the winter months, we see a surge in European tourists, particularly Germans, who use Swakopmund as a base for exploring Namibia,” Styles notes.

Styles described Erongo as a natural stopover for travellers traversing between key locations like the Etosha Pan and the southern parts of Namibia.

“It acts as a link, offering a unique break in the journey,” she said, adding that this aspect is crucial in distributing tourist footfall across Namibia and preventing congestion in more popular destinations.

When asked about promotional efforts for the region, Styles acknowledges mixed approaches.

“While the National Tourism Board focuses on promoting Namibia as a whole, local initiatives like social media groups and pages, including the municipality’s Facebook page, have been instrumental in branding the region as an adventure hub,” she says.

She also recognises the role of local lodges and guest farms in marketing the region globally.

According to Styles, Erongo’s appeal transcends local tourism, attracting international visitors, particularly during the festive season.

“Swakopmund is becoming increasingly popular, not just among Namibians and South Africans but also Europeans,” she remarks, adding that this influx of tourists has a significant economic impact, boosting local businesses and the hospitality sector.

Looking forward, Styles remains optimistic but cautious.

“Stats don’t always tell the full story,” she says, stressing the need for a qualitative understanding of tourism impacts.

She hopes for continued growth in the sector while maintaining the unique charm and appeal of the Erongo region.

Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) chief executive Gitta Paetzold has also highlighted that Erongo, particularly its coastline, is Namibia’s most popular holiday destination.

“It offers a variety of activities ranging from angling and boat trips to onshore pursuits like quad biking, desert tours, dune boarding and hang gliding. The agreeable weather is another significant factor, attracting many Namibians to the sea when the inland heat becomes unbearable.”

The region’s allure extends beyond its natural beauty and adventure activities.

“Erongo hosts a long list of special events and activities, including sports events like triathlons, soccer and the Jetty Mile, as well as an increasing number of music events. These attractions bring people to Erongo for the festive season. Moreover, it’s not just Namibians, people from our landlocked neighbouring countries, such as Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, also choose Erongo as their holiday destination,” Paetzold adds.

Recent HAN statistics for November 2023 underscore Erongo’s growing prominence in Namibia’s tourism sector. The coastal region boasts an impressive 56,8% occupancy rate, surpassing other areas in popularity. With 3 157 leisure visitors, nearly the entirety of tourism in the area is leisure-oriented, with business travel being a minimal component.

The room and bed availability in the region reflects this demand. Out of 3 060 rooms and 6 240 beds available, 1 738 rooms and 3 161 beds were sold.

The Erongo Tourism Forum (ETF) launched at Swakopmund last year, and headed by Erongo governor Neville Andre, is key to bolster the region’s tourism sector. It comprises diverse stakeholders from the tourism landscape, as well as public and private sector.

Andre emphasised the forum’s primary goal is to steer regional tourism towards sustainable growth while ensuring equitable benefits.

The Covid-19 pandemic reshaped the tourism landscape, necessitating flexibility and resilience.

Andre reflects on the hardships faced during the pandemic, noting the vital role locals played in sustaining hospitality businesses.

“The pandemic was a learning curve,” he says.

The ETF is not just about tourism but also addresses broader socio-economic issues like poverty, unemployment and community empowerment. Andre’s vision for the region includes leveraging Erongo’s unique attractions – eco, wildlife, cultural and adventure tourism – to position it as a competitive destination in Africa.

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