Namibia’s New Visa Regime: A Step Backward for Tourism and Economic Growth

The SADC Business Council Tourism Alliance has expressed deep concern over Namibia’s proposed restrictive visa regime, which could severely hamper the country’s tourism industry and economic growth.

This policy shift appears to contradict Namibia Airports Company’s recently launched air access strategy, “Air Connect Namibia”, aimed at increasing international flights and connectivity. The implementation of stricter visa requirements could have a detrimental impact on various sectors of Namibia’s economy, including tourism, hospitality, transportation, and retail, all of which rely heavily on international visitors.

Evidence from across Africa, including success stories from Rwanda and Zambia, demonstrates that visa liberalisation significantly boosts tourism, foreign investment, and overall economic growth. A more open visa policy attracts a diverse range of visitors, including business travellers, investors, and tourists, who contribute to the economy through spending, job creation, and tax revenue. The Africa Visa Openness Index 2023 highlights that visa openness is crucial for Africa’s tourism industry, serving as a catalyst for economic growth.

“A restrictive visa regime can negatively impact the entire tourism value chain,” says Natalia Rosa, Project Lead for the SADC Business Council Tourism Alliance. “It hinders not only leisure travel but also business travel, conferences, events, education, and trade, thereby limiting overall economic growth and development.”

Several African countries, including those within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), are moving towards more liberal visa policies. Namibia risks falling behind its regional peers and losing its competitive edge as a tourist destination if it adopts a more restrictive approach.

“We urge the Namibian government to reconsider these restrictive measures and engage in dialogue with stakeholders to find solutions that balance security concerns with the need for economic growth and regional competitiveness,” adds Rosa. “Aligning visa policies with the air access strategy is essential to maximise the benefits of increased flight options and attract a larger influx of travellers. Namibia could look to successful examples like Rwanda, which has seen significant growth in its MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) tourism sector due to visa liberalisation and investment in infrastructure.”

One of the first countries to introduce a remote working visa recognising the demand post-COVID, Namibia’s visa regime U-turn is puzzling, particularly as SADC prepares to pilot its Univisa.

Instead of tightening visa restrictions, Namibia could explore alternative solutions such as implementing more efficient visa processing systems (e.g., e-visas), targeted visa waivers for specific groups, or enhanced security measures at borders.

“All barriers to entry for international visitors must be critically examined and addressed to encourage longer stays, increase spending in the economy, and accelerate the recovery of the tourism sector,” Rosa concludes.

The SADC Business Council Tourism Alliance remains committed to supporting Namibia’s tourism industry and advocating for policies that promote sustainable growth and development.

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