IF the domestic tourism industry expands so that it caters for everyone in the country, rather than focusing on traditional tourists, it has the potential to contribute significantly more to the economy.
Essentially, the domestic tourism sector has provided strong support for the national industry, but it is still only focused on a limited portion of the market, by offering the same ‘traditional’ products to the same type of tourists that have dominated expenditure in this area for the past 50 years. This approach excludes a key part of the potential market, as product providers assume that their existing products will also be appealing to new entrants to the discretionary spending economy, when, in fact, they have very different needs. These travellers are not defined by racial demographics, but are rather differentiated by their demand for new and different tourism experiences, which are not covered by the current product set.
Factors that influence travel choices for emerging local tourists – often high-earning and high-spending – include family size, value for money, food and beverage options, activities that appeal to their interests and accessibility.
One of the biggest disruptors for domestic tourism over the past decade has been the growth and improved accessibility of international travel.
Local tourism operators have to realise that they are competing with international tourism options, to a much greater extent than in the past. Younger tourists are often inclined to travel overseas, as they perceive other emerging markets as offering better value for money and experiences than they can find on home soil. These factors become increasingly important, as the economic conditions tighten for consumers making decisions about discretionary leisure expenditure. The industry can be doing a lot more to attract this market, especially given the scarcity of economic growth. This provides a real opportunity to expand the industry, by understanding what drives the purchasing decisions of the various emerging market segments, and adapting products and tourism experiences to cater for all types of tourists. Importantly, this would also serve to diversify the composition of tourism industry ownership, which is crucial for the sustainability of the sector. For the past two decades, our industry has relied on feeding the informal, mostly arts and craft sector, into the more formal tourism supply chains, to achieve diversification of ownership and products, but we need more than this.
There is a clear opportunity for small to medium-sized black-owned businesses, ranging from adventure operators to hotel and resort groupings, to grow the available product set and to make the domestic tourism market accessible to more consumers, and if the industry manages to grow in this manner, it will go a long way to making domestic tourism even more resilient.
It is critical that Namibia strengthen the foundations of the local industry, as this provides important support to the international tourism sector.
In order to achieve this, all stakeholders need to see the big picture, which is the value of expanding product offerings, changing the ownership landscape and the consumer base, in terms of their impact on the country’s overall economy.
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