Tourism & conservation

Tourism is arguably one of Namibia’s most socio-economically important sectors. The country’s unique natural attractions make it a global destination of choice amongst safari, luxury, adventure and photographic travellers. The variety of landscapes and scenery, healthy and ever-growing wildlife populations, enigmatic and friendly people and general safety and ease of travel have made Namibia one of the top destinations on the African continent. At the core of Namibia’s tourism lie the country’s successful conservation efforts, which ensure the continued existence of all that makes the Namibia attractive and unique. The world-renowned Community-based Natural Resource Management programme and strong conservation policies embedded in the fabric of government are but two of the drivers of this success.

Discovering the land of the wild and free

 

According to the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, Namibia’s tourism sector provides full-time employment for an estimated 100,000 people. The COVID pandemic has arguably hit the tourism sector the hardest. Lockdowns and bans on global travel placed tremendous strain on the industry. Though recovery seems to be imminent with the easing of travel restrictions and international travellers regaining confidence in travel, Namibia is still a long way from reclaiming its previous foothold. It is, however, very well positioned as a tourism product for pandemic-weary visitors. The country’s quick and efficient response to the pandemic, low population density (about 3 people per square kilometre) and vast landscapes are enticing elements for potential international travellers.

It was therefore no surprise that Namibia was the first country in Africa which the Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation visited during the height of the pandemic in 2020. His visit sent a clear message to the world that Namibia has managed the pandemic well and its tourism industry has adapted to the new safe-mode of travel.

There are few places left on earth with such an abundance of space, where wildlife roams freely and man and nature coexist.

Namibia was the first country on earth to write the protection of the environment into its constitution. It is also one of the only countries across the globe that protects its entire coastline. Namibia’s coastline extends over more than 1,570 km from the Orange River in the south to the Kunene River in the north. This entire stretch, with the exception of a few coastal towns, is part of national parks:  Tsau //Khaeb and Namib-Naukluft national parks in the south, Dorob National Park in the centre and Skeleton Coast National Park along the northern stretch. Combined, these parks would be the biggest park area in Africa and the 6th largest in the world. The marine protected area along the Atlantic coast covers one million hectares of ocean.

Namibia boasts 22 proclaimed conservation areas which together cover 17% of the land surface. The most notable of them is Etosha National Park in the central north. It is a haven for indigenous wildlife and rated one of the top parks for game viewing in Africa. Namibia is also party to three transfrontier conservation areas – /Ai-/Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park shared with South Africa in the south, Iona Skeleton Coast Transfrontier Park shared with Angola in the northwest and the KAZA TFCA in the northeast. KAZA, the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, spans across five countries, i.e. Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola, and is the largest conservation area of its kind in the world. With a size of 519 912 km² it is larger than Germany and Austria combined. The most notable feature of this conservation region are the large herds of migrating mammals that cross man-made borders. The park is home to the largest contiguous population of African elephants (approximately 250,000), large carnivores, massive numbers of plains game and over 600 species of birds.

Namibia’s most photographed destination is certainly Sossusvlei, found in Namib-Naukluft National Park in the southwest. The dramatic scenery of towering ochre sand dunes (among the highest in the world), set against a stark white clay pan dotted with ancient petrified camel thorn trees, is surreal. Sossusvlei also falls within the three million hectare Namib Sand Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the heart of the Namib Desert. The Namib is the oldest desert in the world, estimated at 43 million years and believed to have existed in its present form for at least two million years. It stretches along the entire Namibian coastline from northern South Africa and into Angola. At Namibia’s other UNESCO World Heritage Site, Twyfelfontein, visitors can marvel at one of the largest collections of petroglyphs (rock engravings) in Africa, made by San shamans over 6,000 years ago.

Namibia’s acclaimed Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme is a revolutionary approach to conservation in Africa. Through the creation of this programme in the early 90s, soon after Namibia’s independence, the government endowed local communities with ownership rights to the natural resources around them. Communities set up legal entities, known as conservancies, which have internal governing systems and management plans to derive financial benefits for their members through the sustainable utilisation of natural resources. Examples of such uses include photographic tourism, conservation trophy hunting, harvesting of indigenous plants and the creation and sale of arts and crafts. In turn, these communities are tasked with the protection of their natural resources. In 2019 alone, the CBNRM sector was able to generate around N$ 156 million in revenue. Between 1990 and 2019, CBNRM contributed more than N$ 9.7 billion to Namibia’s net income. This money has been used to not only support the communities living within conservancies, but has also been funnelled into a myriad of conservation initiatives, including projects such as community game guards, anti-poaching activities and human-wildlife conflict mitigation. This economic incentive and sense of ownership encourages communities to safeguard their natural assets and it has proven incredibly successful in Namibia’s nationwide conservation initiatives.

Perhaps Namibia’s greatest conservation success story is that of the black rhinoceros. The largest free-roaming population on the globe is found in the north-western Erongo and Kunene regions of Namibia. After a shocking decline of 98% between 1960 and 1995, due to habitat loss, drought and poaching, the population stabilised, despite a resurgence in poaching in the years 2012 to 2017. It is estimated that there are fewer than 5,600 black rhinos left in the wild today. Namibia is thought to be home to 95% of them. Since the peak of poaching in 2013, the collective efforts of government, police, NGOs and most notably the communities who live in the area, have resulted in poaching operations dropping by 80%.

Namibia is also a haven for large carnivores, with healthy populations of big cats. Lions, which were nearly hunted to extinction over a century ago, have made a tremendous comeback, with an estimated population of between 500 to 800 in the wilds of Namibia today – according to the AfriCat Foundation. Among them are the now famous ‘desert lions’ of north-western Namibia. A 2019 national leopard census indicated that the “best guess” population of these elusive cats is around 11,700. One of Namibia’s biggest claims to fame in terms of wildlife is the fact that it is home to the largest cheetah population in the world. An estimated 1,500 of southern Africa’s 4,000 free-ranging cheetahs live in Namibia. 

Despite being famous for its arid landscapes, Namibia is also home to an expanse of beautiful riverine forest wetlands. From the eastern bank of the Okavango River, the Kavango East and the Zambezi regions stretch out like an arm all the way to Impalila Island where Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet. Namibia’s north-eastern regions contain five perennial rivers and are home to large populations of wildlife, including elephant and African buffalo and over 400 bird species. Five national parks and varied habitats consist of broad-leafed and acacia woodlands, mopane and riverine forests, grasslands and floodplains.

From vast arid plains and sweeping desert-scapes to thick bushland and lush wetlands, Namibia’s natural diversity astounds. Paired with a strong and dedicated conservation culture, the country is devoted to preserving its most precious asset – its natural wealth. 

FAST FACTS

  • Namibia has 22 state-run protected areas covering about 17 percent of the country’s land surface 
  • 45 percent of the country is under some form of conservation management 
  • Namibia’s entire coastline that stretches 1 570 kilometres, is protected 
  • 86 conservancies covering around 20% of Namibia’s surface area 
  • 43 community forests that cover approximately 10% of the country 
  • The largest free-roaming black rhino population in the world
  • The largest free-roaming cheetah population in the world
  • First African country to incorporate environmental protection into its constitution. 
  • Some of the highest sand dunes in the world 
  • The Namib is the world’s oldest desert 
  • Fish River Canyon is one of the largest canyons in the world 
  • Namibia has a high level of biodiversity and endemicity. Approximately 75% of the mammal species of Southern Africa occur in Namibia 

MINISTRY OF environment, forestry & tourism

Learn more about Namibia’s tourism and conservation resources from the line ministry within government.