Nam Bars SA Tourists Entry

OVER 70 tourists who were scheduled to fly in private planes from South Africa have been denied permission to land in Namibia by the Ministry of Works and Transport.

The move by the ministry has been branded as an “international embarrassment” by critics and dubbed as a “slap in the face of the tourism industry” by tourism bodies in the country.

The tourists were supposed to arrive today and had made booking arrangements at various lodges, including Erindi Private Game Lodge. They had to cancel the bookings after they were denied permission to travel three days before the arrival date.

Sources said the group flies to Namibia annually for holidays, and stay at various locations for a few days at a time.

At least 29 aircraft were supposed to land at Eros airport in Windhoek, before flying to Erindi and Swakopmund and then to Keetmanshoop, spending two nights at each place before returning to South Africa.

“The formal request for permission to fly in Namibia was submitted many months ago. All the necessary work was done to allow them to fly. Air traffic control was prepared and the police and military were notified. Everyone knew they were coming. Accommodation had been booked and paid for.

“Fuelling was planned for each stop,” said a source, adding that the tourists were expected to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in Namibia, thereby contributing to the growth of the local economy. It is unclear why the application was turned down as the Minister of Transport Erkki Nghimtina yesterday declined to comment or to give reasons for refusing entry to the enthusiasts. “I’m on leave, ask those who are at the office,” he said. Transport permanent secretary Peter Mwatile also declined to comment, directing questions back to Nghimtina. The ministry’s acting-permanent secretary Erikson Nengola also declined to comment, but confirmed that he is aware that the tourists were not allowed to fly into Namibia.

Last year in May, a similar incident happened, where 22 South African cancer awareness campaigners were arrested at Ondangwa Airport and their planes impounded by police after sparking fears that they were on a mission linked to the events of the Cassinga massacre.

However, police later said the tourists were arrested because they did not have valid flying-over and landing permits.

The tourists had insisted that they were cancer awareness campaigners and that they had simply come to visit the country but were disappointed at the treatment they received at the hands of the Namibian police. The tourists had also claimed that they contacted the aviation authorities and were granted permission to fly in Namibia.

The tourists had booked all the 50 rooms at Erindi for two nights, but due to the late cancellation, Erindi game-owners had to hassle for replacements at the last minute, forcing them to offer a 50% discount to avoid incurring a loss. The lodge sent out an email to potential clients on Tuesday in a desperate attempt to secure new clients.

“We’ve had a large cancellation at Old Traders Lodge and are offering a fantastic 50% discount to those who can visit Erindi this week on short notice,” reads the email.

Co-owner at Erindi Adrie Joubert lamented that the lodge stood to lose a lot of money if it does not get sufficient replacements for the cancelled accommodations this weekend. “These people (tourists) made their bookings months ago. We only received a letter from an agency in South Africa on Monday informing us that the bookings were cancelled due to the fact that the ministry had denied them permission to fly into Namibia,” said Joubert.

Executive Officer at the Hospitality Association of Namibia Gitta Paetzold told The Namibian that HAN had just wrapped up a three-day conference on Tourism Growth Strategy with stakeholders, including the Ministry of Works, this week. “I’m disappointed to hear that something like this has to happen when we are making efforts to market Namibia internationally. It is difficult to market the country when our people are denying tourists permission to visit the country,” she said. Paetzold said although the ministry has the mandate to carry out regulations, it also has a responsibility to provide reasons why it has not approved such an application.

“There could have been good reasons why the application was turned down but those reasons should be given. Flying safaris are a key part of the tourism industry,” she said. She said one of the hot topics during the conference was to find ways to grow the tourism industry but that incidences such as this might defeat their efforts. Paetzold also said there are incidences when authorities sometimes sit on applications for a long time, delaying the process. “This is a slap in the face of the tourism industry,” she said.

Director of tourism at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism Sem Shikongo, who was also at the three-day stakeholder meeting could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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Source : The Namibian