A new form of tourism

Today’s discerning tourist not only wishes to visit ecologically intact areas, but also to engage with the people who live there. In Namibia that is especially true, because the tour guide, the waitress and the barman are likely to be members of a conservancy, which has a direct stake in the tour business of the lodge where the guest is staying.

Together with the community

The concept, which has been pioneered in Namibia and has proved highly successful, is that of a joint venture partnership between conservancies and private sector investors. When Namibian communal conservancies were given rights over wildlife, they were also granted the right to run tourism operations. No longer could a lodge be erected with the agreement of a chief, without benefits going to the community.

A typical joint-venture agreement is a lodge. An investor – individual or corporate ­– agrees to build a lodge within a conservancy. In return, the conservancy provides eco-services, such as game guards, which ensure the maintenance of wildlife. Both sides profit. The investor will receive a financial return on the investment because visitors will be attracted by wildlife. The conservancy receives a negotiated percentage of the profits, and conservancy members are employed at the lodge.

Building on success

Before the first conservancy was created in 1998, there was only one joint-venture agreement with a community: Damaraland Camp. By 2014 there were over 42 joint-venture tourism agreements, with many different forms and today there are over 60 agreements.

Some lodges are entirely owned and run by the investor. These tend to be large infrastructures. They provide employment to conservancy members and a percentage of the profit to the conservancy.

At the other end of the scale are lodges owned exclusively by the conservancy, which makes an agreement with a private sector tour operator which has the expertize to run and market lodges.

In between are models where the conservancy acquires a stake in the lodge over a period of time and may come to own the infrastructure at the expiry of the agreement after a lengthy period, sometimes 20 years.

An important benefit to the community, in addition to the revenue and jobs, is the empowerment of the community itself, which develops the skills to negotiate with investors and manage large sums of money for the benefit of conservancy members. Local people are employed not only at the bottom of the tourism career ladder but are rising to the top as managers.

The national economy

Tourism is the fastest growing sector in the economy. Overall returns to conservancies from tourism in 2013 were just under N$30 million, but that only tells part of the story. What has to be added on is the income earned from tour companies, from hotels and restaurants in the capital, Windhoek, from the national airline and from car hire companies. The economic benefit to the nation from tourism, including community-based tourism, is considerable.

A quality product

The lodges and luxury tented-camps in Namibian communal conservancies are among the top-rated eco-lodges in the world. The construction materials may often be simple: clay, wood or canvas, but as a result, they blend into the stunning landscapes where they are set. Lodges range from comfortable to luxurious, and the cuisine from simple to extraordinary. Namibia has two training establishments for chefs, and Namibian beef and game is often described as the world’s finest.

Most important is the hospitality guests may expect from smiling conservancy members who are knowledgeable about the environment the guest is visiting, because they come from the nearby farms and villages, and have grown up with the ecology and wildlife.

» View a list of private sector tourism partners.