Namibia: The sands of opportunity

1398

Namibia’s not one for the limelight. It’s rarely in the news, doesn’t cause much trouble and doesn’t shout its successes from the rooftops. And yet, this sparsely populated country sandwiched between South Africa and Angola is often seen as one of the havens on the continent.

It’s a stable, legislated democracy that might not make any waves on the global stage, but won’t burn any fingers either. Predictable and prosperous; in short, the ideal place for doing business. “Namibia’s economy is fairly stable, and a positive investment climate is bringing a steady stream of business travellers to Windhoek,” notes Roman Kopacek, General Manager at Hilton Windhoek, the city’s first five-star business hotel. “This means we have been fortunate to operate at respectable occupancy levels since opening last year.”

While Namibia’s economy is mildly diversified into fishing, mining and agriculture, tourism remains the country’s top earner of foreign exchange. Leisure travel dominates the industry, but according to the latest (2010) figures, over 150 000 business-focused travellers visit Namibia each year. Of those, a full 80% are from South Africa or Angola. The rise in regional traffic is a trend noted by business-focused hotels too, with Windhoek properties reporting a boom in Southern African Development Community (SADC) travellers.

“We have seen an increase in a lot of business travel from Angola, as more Angolans set up companies or joint ventures in Namibia,” agrees Rudie Putter, General Manager of Sun International’s Kalahari Sands Hotel and Casino. “We think these numbers will increase even more, as our local air carrier now has direct flights to Gaborone, Zambia and Zimbabwe.”

Air access has long been a driver of economic development, and Air Namibia has quietly gone about entrenching its position as a key regional airline feeding traffic into Windhoek, with new routes to Livingstone, Lagos and Ondjiva in southern Angola. However, it’s not all good news. Namibia, like much of the continent, has not been immune to global recession, and corporate travel has seen its fair share of cost cutting.

“We are seeing a rising trend in business people flying in, having a meeting in town, and then flying out on the same day… the regularity of business visits are also being cut back and the local economy is definitely under pressure,” notes Tony Boucher, General Manager of the Windhoek Country Club and Resort. “While we still have a number of inbound guests, the global market is definitely under pressure.”

Rainer Gottschick, Executive – Commercial & Regional Countries for AVIS Rent A Car agrees that while business hasn’t dried up, the nature of the corporate traveller has changed.

“Corporate business is slightly up on the previous year,” says Mr Gottschick. “However, the significant change is that rental length has declined by approximately 10%, meaning corporates are staying over less than before, with many flying in and out in one day. “

“Business travel has been targeted as an area of cost-cutting, and [this] has a direct effect on our revenues,” agrees Mr Putter. “Although the weaker Namibian dollar made travel to Namibia cheaper for international travellers, outbound travel from the European and American source markets was weak.”

If there’s a silver lining on the cloud of recessionistas cutting their travel costs, it’s the sturdy conferencing and incentive market.

“We are seeing a growing number of enquiries and conversions with big corporates selecting Namibia as their destination of choice for incentives, however big or small,” says Chantal Matthee, spokesperson for the Namibia Tourism Board in Johannesburg. “Namibia provides the perfect setting for such events and the logistics are easy for the planner, with no foreign currency or visas for the delegates to worry about.”

“However, challenges remain in the market,” warns Mr Kopacek. “We’re currently experiencing less interest in large-scale conference bookings, but on the upside there has been an increase in bookings for smaller, more intimate groups of meetings.”

Even in Swakopmund, the heart of Namibia’s leisure tourism industry, hotels have begun to rely on corporate bookings for year-round sustainability.

“Looking at the trends of guests in the area [it] has changed from a tourist to a corporate market,” says Janet Wilson-Moore, General Manager of the Swakopmund Hotel and Entertainment Centre. “Much of this move can be attributed to the mines in the area; their growth and expansion, and the continued and increasing business they are bringing to the area.”

It’s a perfect reminder that economies don’t exist in isolation. Government affects mining that affects tourism that impacts on aviation that has an effect on regional politics. Create a ripple in one corner and you see a wave in another. And for now, Namibia’s economic ship seems to be fairly stable on a global sea of uncertainty. No surprise then, that at the best hotels in the country, you’d better book ahead if you want a room at the inn.

NAMIBIA FACT FILE

Population: One of the world’s most sparsely populated countries, Namibia’s 2.3 million citizens are spread across just 825 418km² of land: only 2.6 people per square kilometre.

Time zone: GMT+2. Namibia practises daylight savings time from the first Sunday in April to the last Saturday in August, with clocks set one hour behind to GMT+1.

Business hours: Office hours are from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. from Mondays to Fridays, while banks are open for business from 9 a.m. – 3.30 p.m. on weekdays and 8.30 a.m. – 12 p.m. on Saturdays.

Electricity: 220V AC 50hz

Dialling code: +264 + area code + number required

Currency: Alongside the Namibian Dollar (N$) the South African rand (ZAR) is legal tender in Namibia, with parity between the currencies’ exchange rates. ATMs are widely available in urban areas, and most offer VISA/Mastercard links to international banking networks.

GDP (2011 est.): US$15.94-billion

GDP Growth rate (2011 est.): 3.6%

Language: English is spoken throughout Namibia, and is the official language of business and government. Afrikaans and German are also spoken widely (especially in the west of the country) alongside a host of indigenous languages.

Important cities: Windhoek is the business, legal and political heart of the country, although much of the wealth centred here comes from afar. Coastal Swakopmund relies on seasonal tourism for its income, while the port of Walvis Bay is home to the forex-earning fishing industry and is an important import-export node. Further south, Lüderitz is focused around tourism, fishing and diamond mining, while near the country’s northern border the town of Oshakati is a vital link in the lucrative cross-border trade with Angola.

Roads: Although the distances between towns are long, Namibia boasts a well-maintained road network with 37 000km of gravel and 6,000km of tarred roads. In addition to major roads linking the central plateau with coastal mining and fishing hubs, the country also offers good links to neighbouring countries via the Trans-Caprivi and Trans-Kalahari highways.

Customs: The Southern African Customs Union (SACU) – which allows for the free movement of goods between Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa – is headquartered in Windhoek. Established in 1910, the SACU is the world’s oldest Customs Union.

AIRLINES AND AIRPORTS

Although few international airlines offer direct flights into Windhoek, the capital’s Hosea Kutako International Airport – situated 48 kilometres east of the city – has good regional connections, including multiple daily flights to Africa’s aviation hub in Johannesburg. In downtown Windhoek, Eros Airport is a secondary airport used primarily by domestic air charter companies.

Walvis Bay Airport has flights to both domestic and regional destinations, while an extensive network of airstrips (most of them gravel, therefore unsuitable for jet aircraft) across the country make private air charter an efficient way to travel around this vast country.

Air Namibia is the country’s national carrier, with both domestic and international destinations served from Hosea Kutako International Airport. The airline offers three flights per day between Windhoek and Johannesburg, and a further four flights per day between Windhoek and Cape Town. There are also two flights a day between Walvis Bay and Cape Town.

From Windhoek, domestic destinations include Rundu, Katima Mulilo and Walvis Bay, with regional routes to Lusaka (Zambia), Luanda (Angola), Maun (Botswana), and Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe). Further afield, the airline offers international routes to Accra (Ghana), Lagos (Nigeria) and Frankfurt (Germany).

airnamibia.com.na or +264 61 299 6111

BA/Comair is one of the most respected airlines in southern Africa, and offers one flight per day from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport to Windhoek.

ba.com or 0860 4 359 22 (from South Africa)

South African Airways flies up to three times a day from Johannesburg to Windhoek, with morning, afternoon and evening departures. SAA’s affiliate airline SA Express offers an additional flight to Windhoek five days per week (not weekends), and daily flights from Johannesburg to Walvis Bay. SA Express also flies five times a week from Cape Town to both Windhoek and Walvis Bay.

flysaa.com or +27 11 978 5313

GET YOUR BUSINESS ON COURSE

Worldwide, the golf course is often a preferred place for doing business, and Namibia is no different. Despite being one of the driest countries on the continent, there is a host of top-notch courses countrywide to get you swinging and signing…

Omeya: Perhaps the most glamorous course Namibia has to offer, Omeya is a residential golf estate whose 18-hole layout was designed by highly respected course architect Peter Matkovitch. Situated 30 kilometres from Windhoek, the 6920-metre course has been created to challenge even the most competent player, but is filled with plenty of design tweaks to keep you entertained. Look out for the massive green on the signature 4th.

+264 61 400 848 omeyagolf.com

Windhoek Country Club: The closest course to the city centre, the capital’s favourite country club offers a par-72 parkland course with 18 holes stretching over a relatively forgiving 6293 metres. The course also offers excellent additional golfing facilities, with a floodlit practice range, resident professionals and a well-stocked ProShop on site. Caddies and motorised carts are available.

+264 61 205 5911 windhoek.co.za

Rössmund Golf Course: Along with eagles and birdies you’ll need to keep an eye out for the springbok on this unique 18-hole course a few kilometres from Swakopmund. It’s one of just a handful of fully grassed 18-hole desert courses in the world, set in the dry Swakop River and irrigated year-round to ensure emerald fairways. The clubhouse and restaurant are well-stocked for drinks after a round.

+264 64 405644

Walvis Bay Golf Course: If you need a reminder that much of Namibia is desert, this is it. This nine-hole layout offers grass tees and greens, but fairways of clay and dramatic Namib dunes as a backdrop. Ernie wouldn’t be too charmed, but it’s a challenging and quirky round nonetheless.

+264 81 2716950

Henties Bay Golf Village: The sleepy holiday town north of Swakopmund is home to a brand-new course that’s well worth the hour’s drive. The nine holes of sparkling fairways and lush greens are carved out of barren sands, making it a quirky course well worth a round.

hentiesgolf.com

+264 64 500211

GETTING AROUND

While taxis are plentiful in most of Namibia’s major towns, long-distance public transport is fairly limited and generally unsuitable for the corporate traveller. There’s an established network of transfer companies offering both ground and air services, but most visitors choose to self-drive. The roads are in good condition, although often gravel, and driving conditions are generally stress-free. A wide range of international car hire companies operates in Namibia, offering a selection of vehicles suitable for both on- and off-road journeys.

“From a safety and security perspective, Namibia is a safe destination to travel in,” says Rainer Gottschick, Executive – Commercial & Regional Countries for AVIS Rent A Car, “although with the vast distances between towns, cell phone reception is a problem in certain areas.”

If you choose to self-drive be aware of the long distances between towns and filling stations, and allow plenty of time to make the journey. Avoid driving long distances at night, as wild animals frequently cross the road.

If you’re spending most of your time in the cities, a standard sedan will be adequate, but if you plan to drive extensively on the country’s wide network of gravel roads it’s worth hiring a 4×4 or SUV vehicle with good ground clearance and road holding, advises Mr Gottschick: “Eighty-seven per cent of Namibian roads are gravel… we would recommend a vehicle more suited to handling these conditions such as a Honda CRV All Wheel Drive or a Toyota 4×4 Double-Cab.”

Hire companies offer a range of insurance options, with ‘Super Waiver Cover’ the best option as it reduces your liability in the event of damage to the vehicle, windscreen and tyres.

Avis Rent A Car

Hosea Kutako Airport

+264 62 540 271 avis.co.za

Tempest Car Hire

43 Werner List Street, Windhoek

+264 61 227 103 tempestcarhire.co.za

Europcar

24 Bismarck Street, Windhoek

+264 6138 5100 europcar.com

Thrifty Car Rental

Hosea Kutako Airport

+264 62 540 004 thrifty.co.za

WHERE TO STAY

While many of Namibia’s upmarket hotels and lodges are aimed firmly at holidaymakers, there are a few that are ideal for corporate travellers looking to both rest and impress. Try checking in at…

The Olive Exclusive Boutique Hotel: Situated in a quiet corner of Windhoek this all-suite boutique hotel blends European style with African warmth. There’s a focus on luxury lodgings here, with private dining rooms, chic courtyards and a modish dining room. Satellite TV, Wi-Fi Internet access and iPod docking stations come standard, naturally.

+264 61 239199 theolive-namibia.com

Hilton Windhoek: This international hotel chain was the first to bring a five-star business hotel to the capital, and it’s proved to be a hit with corporate travellers. Modern luxury rooms offer all the mod-cons you’d expect from a global hotel chain, but the hotel is especially good when it comes to entertaining clients:  there are five separate restaurants on site, including the glamorous rooftop SkyBar with its city views. Function and meeting facilities can accommodate up to 250 delegates.

+264 61 296 2929 hilton.com

Windhoek Country Club Resort: As popular with holidaymakers as businessmen – and perfect if you’re combining a bit of both – this 152-room resort-style hotel is just minutes from downtown Windhoek. On top of the wide range of leisure facilities, corporate travellers will appreciate the complimentary Internet access and same-day dry-cleaning service. Choose this hotel if you’re travelling with family, or extending your mid-week trip into the weekend for some downtime.

+264 61 205 5911 windhoek.co.za

Kalahari Sands: Following a multi-million dollar refurbishment in 2011, this central city hotel is once again a good choice if you prefer to stay downtown. The 173-rooms are sleek and stylish, with city views and the expected business facilities. A range of mixed-use conference and event facilities are available, and there’s an upmarket shopping mall right next to the hotel.

+264 61 280 000 suninternational.com

Swakopmund Hotel & Entertainment Centre: Far and away the best place for corporate travellers to stay in Swakopmund, this large hotel – there are 90 rooms – is a popular option for conferencing in Namibia’s premier holiday town. The Platform One restaurant, set in the old railway station, is a good bet for client dinners, while everything from swimming pools to cinemas will give you options for any downtime.

+264 64 410 5200 / +27 11 806 6888 swakopmundhotel.co.za

SHARE
Previous articleQ&A: Seeing the Opportunity
Next articlePremium Travel