Post by Leah Rosenstiel
It really began to feel like the end of the semester
as we headed to the South for our final excursion before we leave Namibia. Although we have not even come close to seeing all of the parts of Namibia, we have now gotten a taste of the South, Windhoek, the Kunene region, the north and the coast.
The trip was an extension of our Development class and we looked at eco-tourism and community-based resource management. From what I have gathered, community-based resource management is government promotion of the creation of community-owned conservancies and campsites. The idea being that to attract tourists, the community must preserve their natural resources. Additionally jobs will be created within the community.
On our first night, we stayed outside of Keetmanshoop at a beautiful community-owned campsite situated on the Fish River next to a natural hot spring. However, we learned from Bernardus, the owner, that the campsite rarely gets visitors. Both he and a representative from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism we spoke with seemed to think that one of the major problems for campsites in the South is a lack of marketing. From what I have seen at both our first campsite and the second community-owned campsite we stayed at outside of Berseba, I do agree with this. At the first campsite, there was only a small sign at the turnoff advertising it. Bernardus said that in order to have a large road sign, they would have to register with the Namibian Tourism Board, which costs a fee that the campsite does not have the money to pay.
But, even beyond the marketing issue, I think there are larger hurdles for community-owned ventures in the South. The campsite outside of Keetmanshoop, although scenic, may not have the natural resources to be a big draw for tourists. Unlike the more successful conservancies in the Kunene region that we have read about, they do not have Big Five animals (lions, elephants, buffalos, rhinos and leopards). Furthermore, private companies run many of the lodges and campsites on these conservancies. In addition to having more startup capital, private companies also have the benefit of employees specifically trained in hospitality and tourism.
We got to see firsthand some of the benefits of the private sector at our last campsite, Gondwana’s Kalahari Anib Lodge. Gondwana has begun to repopulate the area with animals, which is a draw for visitors. The lodge also has a pool, running water and other amenities. A representative from Gondwana talked to us in depth about Gondwana’s large focus on the environment. As much as I like the idea of conservancies, I think, because of their greater resources and ability to hire employees trained in conservation, private lodges might be more equipped to conserve the natural resources. However, one of the large benefits I see to the conservancy model is that it allows the community to continue to have control of the land and farm as well as preserve the natural resources.
From what I have learned and seen so far, I think that for the less successful community campgrounds in the South, a possible solution is to have a partnership with a private company. Another option might be that the government needs to find a different program to incentivize preserving natural resources for some communities. What I have gathered from this is that community-based tourism cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution for all the different communities in Namibia.