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Tourism ministry digs in on new visa regime

Written by on June 5, 2024

The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism says it believes the visa regime for citizens from countries that do not grant visa-free entry to Namibians will have minimal impact on the country’s tourism industry.

However, ministry spokesperson Romeo Muyunda says they will assess how the situation unfolds.

The new visa regime by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security, approved by Cabinet last month, faced backlash from tourism players who raised concern over potential job, business and opportunity losses in the country’s top foreign-currency-earning industry.

He says the ministry supports the need for reciprocity in international relations.

The new visa regime will affect visitors from 37 countries, including Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong (SAR), Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macau (SAR), Mauritius, Moldova and the Netherlands.

Other countries to be affected include New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Seychelles, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uzbekistan.

Countries with reciprocal visa arrangements, such as Angola, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, will not be affected by the upcoming changes.

Romeo Muyunda

The SADC Business Council Tourism Alliance added its voices against Namibia’s new visa regime.

The tourism body says 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 heavily rely on international visitors.

It says 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.

“It hinders not only leisure travel but also business travel, conferences, events, education and trade, thereby limiting overall economic growth and development,” SADC Business Council Tourism Alliance project lead Natalia Rosa says.

Rosa called on 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.

“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,” Rosa says.
Rosa says Namibia’s new visa regime is puzzling as it is one of the first countries to introduce a remote working visa recognising the demand post Covid-19, particularly as SADC prepares to pilot its Univisa.

She says 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 says.

Recently, Namibia Investment Promotion and Development Board chief executive Nangula Uaandja said although there are two sides to this decision, there is a case to be made for both the economic and political argument.

“While I personally subscribe to the economic side of the coin, I understand where cabinet is coming from and have had personal experiences that make that case even more appealing. Therefore, I believe our global partner countries and visitors from those countries should really use this decision to reflect on how they view, group, stereotype and treat Africans. Maybe it is time for a new conversation and a different way of engagement,” Uaandja said.

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