For so long regarded as a holiday destination and a ‘poor cousin’ to South Africa, Namibia is finally flexing its business muscles and announcing itself as a serious African business travel destination, as Richard Holmes discovers.
South Africa often grabs the economic limelight south of the Sahara, but Namibia is quietly making its presence felt in the Southern African Development Community, as it reaps the benefits of mineral wealth and looks to diversify its economy. With visa-free access, excellent air connectivity and modern infrastructure, this sparsely-populated country is increasingly drawing corporate investors and canny entrepreneurs to the wide-open spaces of South Africa’s north-west neighbour.
According to recent figures, close on 80,000 business travellers visit Namibia each year, along with 200,000 more foreigners that arrive on holiday and family visits. “We are extremely pleased, especially taking into account the current economic climate”, says Chantal Matthee, Manager of the Namibia Tourism Board in Johannesburg. “Not many destinations can say that their visitor figures have grown year-on-year, and an increase of 18 percent shows a destination that is growing in popularity with the South African market”.
With its unique desert landscape and largely untouched coastline, Namibia has long been popular with South African holidaymakers. The tourism industry is centred on the coastal holiday town of Swakopmund, where desert adventure is a popular drawcard, but the dunes of Sossusvlei – among the highest in the world – and the wilderness haven of Etosha National Park, are also popular escapes.
But it’s the country’s growing economy that is leading to increased investment and a climb in corporate travel. Contributing to this expansion is a focus by the Namibian government on diversifying an economy that’s long been dependent on exporting raw materials. “There’s a major focus on growing our manufacturing industries at the moment”, explains Bonaventura Hinda, Commercial Counsellor at the Namibian High Commission in Pretoria. “Our traditional economic sectors of agriculture and mining have always been about exporting raw materials, not the finished product. Now, we’re looking to add value to what we produce”.
From marble to uranium, chief amongst those traditional sectors has been mining, which contributes over 12 percent of the gross domestic product. “In terms of value to the economy, diamond mining is the most valuable sector”, says Hinda. “However, we do have a diverse mining sector – we are the world’s fourth-largest producer of uranium and we have zinc, manganese, copper and other minerals. So those sectors are still flourishing”.
With the economic pillars of mining, agriculture, fisheries and tourism diversifying their offering – and Namibia set to become the world’s largest producer of uranium by 2015 – healthy GDP growth of 5.1% is forecast for 2012. And with South Africa accounting for 85% of imports, and a quarter of all exports, business travel between the two countries remains strong.
“Business travel is still buoyant in Windhoek”, says Brian Davidson, Group Sales & Marketing Director for Legacy Hotels and Resorts, who manage the Windhoek Country Club Resort. “There are still many opportunities to be explored in the manufacturing, mining and infrastructure development fields. The global recession appears not to have affected the economy at all, and government is still highly proactive in hosting conferences and international events”.
Sun International are represented in Windhoek by the Kalahari Sands Hotel & Casino, and Lidia de Atouguia, the group’s Divisional Marketing Manager: Resorts, picks up on Davidson’s last point, before making another interesting observation. “The trend in business travel is on the rise, mainly because of the changing infrastructure in the city and a huge growth in the influx of Chinese businessmen into Windhoek. The IT sector continues to travel to Windhoek, as training and expansion is the current trend”.
While the capital remains the country’s business hub – covering the banking, finance, telecommunications, retail, IT and medical sectors – new growth nodes are following the diversification of the Namibian economy, with the fishing industry focused on Walvis Bay, and extensive mining operations taking place in the greater Erongo region.
“We see the northern part of Namibia as the next economic growth point”, says Hinda. “Places like Oshakati and Oshikango are growing because of the borders with southern Angola, and the trade that goes with it. Swakopmund is also a booming area because of the uranium mines, and that has sparked property development in and around town”.
Namibia’s growing popularity as a business destination is also evidenced by investment in the hospitality sector. 2011 has seen the opening of Windhoek’s first five-star hotel, with the launch of the Hilton Windhoek. It’s an industry that is helped by the country’s excellent air access, with a host of airlines – including the Namibian flag-carrier – providing direct flights to regional and international destinations. Corporate travel is “a large part of our business”, notes Charmaine Thomé of Aviareps, representatives of Air Namibia in South Africa, who says that the airline’s 34 flights per week between South Africa and Namibia are scheduled “to work for the corporate traveller on both the inbound and outbound sectors”.
As a result, Namibia is doing rather well, in terms of attracting corporate investment and entrepreneurship, according to a recent report by the influential World Bank. In the Bank’s ‘Doing Business 2011’ report – which rates how economies enhance or restrain business activity – Namibia places sixth in sub-Saharan Africa, ahead of heavyweights such as Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, and in the top 70 of the 183 economies surveyed.
So, it’s a diversifying economy on a steady growth path, with a stable government and regulatory framework that’s conducive to doing business, and while the towering sand dunes and dainty springbok capture the imagination of tourists, it seems it’s the cold hard facts of economic growth that are driving corporate travel to Namibia.
Population: 2.3 million
Time Zone: GMT+2
Dialling code: +264
Currency: Namibian Dollar
GDP (2009-10): N$89 099 000 000
GDP Growth rate (2009-10): 4.2%
Languages: Predominantly English and German
Important cities: Windhoek, Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Lüderitz
Did You Know?
With a population of 2.3 million across 825 418km², Namibia is one of the world’s most sparsely-populated countries, with just 2.6 people per square kilometre.
Airlines And Airports
Hosea Kutako International Airport, situated 48 kilometres east of Windhoek, is the main gateway to Namibia with flights to domestic, regional and international destinations. Eros Airport, in downtown Windhoek, is a secondary airport and an important hub for air charter traffic. Walvis Bay Airport serves domestic and regional flights. Over 350 airstrips (many of them gravel) are dotted across Namibia, allowing charter aircraft to quickly and easily access remote parts of the country.
Air Namibia is the national carrier, and flies both domestic and international routes from its Windhoek hub. The airline offers three flights per day between Johannesburg and Windhoek, in addition to six flights per week (not Saturdays) between Johannesburg and Walvis Bay, via Windhoek (one hour transit time). There are also three flights a day between Cape Town and Windhoek. From Windhoek, the airline connects to domestic and regional destinations that include Rundu, Ondangwa, Lusaka (Zambia) and Luanda (Angola). Further afield, Air Namibia also offers international routes to Accra (Ghana) and Frankfurt (Germany).
airnamibia.com.na or +264 61 299 6111
BA/Comair 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 and its affiliate airline SA Express operate up to five flights per day between Johannesburg and Windhoek. SA Express also offers six flights per week between Cape Town and Windhoek. In addition, SA Express operates seven flights per week between Johannesburg and Walvis Bay, and four flights per week between Cape Town and Walvis Bay.
flysaa.com or +27 11 978 5313
Although the distances between towns can be daunting, self-drive is a good option for business travellers, thanks to Namibia’s mostly well-maintained road network and a good selection of international and local car hire companies, offering a range of vehicles well suited to Namibia’s harsh terrain.
“The most common mistake visitors make when planning from a map is that they don’t allow themselves enough time to get to their destination. They end up rushing, which is when accidents happen”, warns Wayne Duvenage, Chief Executive of Avis Rent a Car. “If the route to your destination is along gravel roads, plan an average speed of 50-70km/hr. If on tar, an average speed of 90-100km/hr should be allowed”.
While almost any car is suitable for the major tarred routes, if you plan to do a lot of driving on Namibia’s extensive network of gravel roads, you’d be well-advised to look at a vehicle with good clearance and road-holding, suggests Duvenage. “For comfort and better drivability on gravel roads, we recommend the Group K (Hyundai ix35 4×2 SUV) or the Group N (4×4 Toyota Hilux DoubleCab). For larger groups, the VW Minibus (Group H) is a fine vehicle”.
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
24 Bismarck Street, Windhoek
+264 6138 5100, europcar.com
Swing Business Your Way
Deals are often sealed out on the course, or perhaps over a drink at the 19th. If you want to do business, or unwind after a long day of meetings, pack your clubs and take a swing at these top golf courses…
Windhoek Country Club
Just a short drive from the city centre, this well-maintained parkland course is a par-72, with 18 holes stretching over a forgiving 6293 metres. Motorised golf carts, as well as caddies, are available and you’ll find a floodlit practice range, resident professionals and a well-stocked ProShop on-site.
+264 61 205 5911, windhoek.co.za
15 minutes south of Windhoek, Omeya is a luxurious residential golf estate due to open in February 2012. Design guru Peter Matkovitch has laid out the 18-hole course, and there’s a brand-new clubhouse on the cards. The Golf Academy boasts a state-of-the-art FlightScope golf studio to help you get those kinks out of your swing. A hotel and conference facilities are also in the pipeline.
+264 61 400 848, omeyagolf.com
Walvis Bay Golf Course
Don’t lace up your golf shoes expecting rolling fairways of clipped kikuyu. This offbeat nine-hole course is a true desert course, with the dunes of the Namib as a dramatic backdrop. The greens and tees are grassed, but the fairways consist of clay composite, so you’ll need to tee up again to avoid wrecking your irons!
+264 81 2716950
Rössmund Golf Course
Five kilometres outside of Swakopmund, the Rössmund Golf Course is one of just five certified 18-hole fully-grass desert courses in the world. Surrounded by the wilderness of the Namib, don’t be surprised if a wandering springbok halts play. There’s a modern clubhouse, with restaurant and bar, for entertaining clients after your round.
+264 64 405644
Where to Stay
A good night’s sleep and central base are key to a successful business trip. We recommend you check in at one of these fine hotels…
Windhoek Country Club Resort
Just a short drive from downtown Windhoek, this 152-room resort-style hotel was refurbished in 2010 and offers a full house of restaurants and leisure facilities. Unlimited free Internet access is a big plus for corporate travellers, as is the 18-hole golf course and same-day dry-cleaning service. A great option if you’re travelling with family.
+264 61 205 5911, windhoek.co.za
This 173-room hotel in the heart of the capital is a popular option for corporate travellers, offering all the ‘mod-cons’ to make business travel a breeze. The hotel boasts a range of meeting facilities across seven multi-faceted conferencing suites, and for your downtime there’s a rooftop swimming pool and state-of-the-art wellness centre.
+264 61 280 000, suninternational.com
Decorated in a contemporary African style, the Hilton Windhoek is the first five-star business hotel in the city. Close the deal over sunset drinks in the SkyBar, or wind down in the Executive Lounge with its floor-to-ceiling city views. There are five restaurants on-site, including the D’Vine wine bar that can be used for small corporate events. The hotel also offers modern meeting facilities for up to 250 delegates.
+264 61 296 2929, hilton.com
Swakopmund Hotel & Entertainment Centre
With 89 rooms and meeting facilities for up to 350 delegates, this is a great option for both business travel and conferencing in Namibia’s most popular holiday town. Recent conference and incentive clients are as diverse as Rio Tinto, Liberty Life and Mercedes Benz. Set in the old railway station, business dinners are best conducted in the Platform One restaurant, while the cinema, gym and swimming pools offer plenty of options for your downtime.
+264 64 410 5200 / +27 11 806 6888, swakopmundhotel.co.za
The Nest, Lüderitz
Far and away the best hotel in Lüderitz, all 62 rooms at this well-run four-star hotel boast sea views. The Penguin Restaurant cooks up some of the best food in town, and there’s a sunny terrace that’s great for doing deals over drinks. The conference facility can handle up to 200 delegates.
+264 63 204 000, nesthotel.com