Africa: Air Namibia liquidation may adversely affect tourism, aviation and GDP says stakeholders as Workers’ union plan protest

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Stakeholders in Namibia’s tourism and aviation sectors are still in shock over the sudden liquidation of the country’s national carrier, Air Namibia, saying the action by the government may adversely affect the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and its tourism sector.

According to neweralive.na, latest statistics indicate that the travel and tourism sector contributed 11% to the GDP in 2020.

Environment and tourism spokesperson Romeo Muyunda has described the situation with Air Namibia as sad.

“The airline carried the Namibian flag and was part of our pride as Namibians. Furthermore, the airline has been a major stakeholder in the development of tourism in the country. The impact of its liquidation will be felt by the tourism sector mostly,” Muyunda expressed.

It is for this reason, he said the ministry is calling upon the sector to restrategise and use available avenues to bring tourists to Namibia.

“We understand the decision was not a simple one but had to be done. As painful as this may be, we move forward by standing up to the challenges this may have presented to the sector, the country, and the economy in general. Tourism needs to be resilient now more than ever,” Muyunda said.

The chief executive officer for the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) Gitta Paetzold feels although it may not have come unexpected, the tourism industry has been waiting anxiously for the shareholder’s decision on the national carrier.

She said there had been many special meetings, Cabinet debates, requests for new business plans and the hanging sword of the legal battle over the lease of the aircraft threatening Air Namibia for years now.

“The actual announcement of the decision to liquidate did come as a shock at the end. Maybe because there always remained an element of hope that at least the national and regional routes could be upheld and the national carrier carries the Namibian flag in this way,” Paetzold noted.

She emphasised it must be remembered that while the national carrier was a very expensive undertaking, the airline did much more for Namibia than carrying passengers to and from Namibia to destinations nationally, regionally.

Paetzold cited destinations such as South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and even Zambia as well as the flagship link to the heart of Europe – Frankfurt where the main tourism source market for Namibia is.

She praised Air Namibia has thus been the loyal and committed air link to the world for the past three decades.

“In the 1990s, Namibia saw the likes of international airlines, such as UTA, LTU (which then converted into Air Berlin), Lufthansa and Condor come and go, depending on the shifts and trends of the international market moving to other more lucrative markets at a whim. While our Air Namibia remained dedicated to Namibia, doing huge marketing for this country as a travel destination abroad carrying cargo, such as Namibian beef, fish, and other commodities, and contributing largely to bringing international media and tourism agents to Namibia on a fact-finding mission to promote Namibia as a travel destination of choice,” Paetzold maintained.

However, she said recent times have put huge pressure on all airlines across the globe even before the coronavirus pandemic, which may just have been the last nail in the coffin for Air Namibia.

She noted Namibia and the tourism industry has called for open skies for years and HAN was happy to see the additional airlines such as Ethiopian Airways, Qatar, KLM, Condor, and Eurowings fly to Namibia thereby expanding the air access to the country.
“We in tourism can only hope and trust that the very promising announcements by Eurowings to expand its routes to Namibia to 5x a week by April, and the return to Namibia by Condor and Qatar, as well as Ethiopian Airways’ link, will remain constant over the next months and years to fill the void left by Air Namibia,” she hoped

Meanwhile the largest trade union in the country, the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), is organising a demonstration this week in a bid to reverse the closing down of Air Namibia and to call for the resignation of public enterprises minister Leon Jooste.

Calling Air Namibia a national asset and a valuable source of employment, a disappointed NUNW secretary general Job Muniaro yesterday told New Era the demonstration planned for Wednesday will start at the union’s head office and will end at the Swapo Party head office.

“The liquidation of Air Namibia is against the will of the people. We never voted for Swapo to put people in positions to auction off this country. These people must improve the livelihood of all Namibians,” said Muniaro.

According to neweralive.na, The NUNW chief also questioned why alternative measures, such as new directors and management, were not taken to rescue the ailing airline.

“We will never get those jobs back and there is no guarantee we will ever get a national airline back,” Muniaro bemoaned, adding “They must withdraw the liquidation and Jooste must go”.
Weighing in on the debacle, All People’s Party president Ignatius Shixwameni said his party completely rejects the liquidation of Air Namibia and other state assets.

The opposition politician added there can be no compromise on workers and their families lives, and that SOEs must be protected and defended at all times.

“We must just do away with cronyism and recruit proper qualified and dedicated Namibian professionals to head those institutions and also be board members of such institutions. The policy of ‘comrades for recruitment’ must fall. Let us recruit competent and capable black Namibians to run all Namibian institutions,” said Shixwameni.

Meanwhile, Rally for Democracy and Progress president Mike Kavekotora said, unfortunately, the liquidation of the national airline became the only viable option after the executive ignored repeated advice from his party.

“We must remember that the airline has been technically insolvent for a number of years and effectively cannot meet its obligation and, therefore, forced to liquidate,” said Kavekotora.

Then, the International Association for Air Transport (IATA), which has 265 members from 117 nations and of which Air Namibia was a member, said the liquidation will leave Namibia without a local airline capable of providing the long-haul connectivity essential for economic recovery.

This recovery, said IATA, is heavily dependent on tourism and exports of high-value gemstones, fish, meat and other perishables that require national air connectivity.

“There can be no doubt the present pandemic and accompanying economic crisis placed Air Namibia under even greater financial distress,” said an IATA spokesperson in Geneva, Switzerland.
IATA also called on the Namibian government to provide support and relief to the rest of the country’s air transport, aviation and tourism industry, including its infrastructure service providers and aviation safety regulator, without which it will struggle to recover the domestic economy, which is dependent on the connectivity and efficiencies that only air transport is capable of providing.

“Funding for this type of support is available. International financial aid and donor agencies have pledged over US$30 billion (about N$440 billion) for governments to support air transport and tourism businesses across Africa, including Namibia,” IATA stated.

However, the association said it is yet to see this support reach where it is needed, calling for financial administrative bottlenecks to be unblocked.

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