The African World Cup that never was
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa did little to boost local tourism unlike initially expected, and for local tour operator Julius Gawaseb, it caused more harm than good.
Gawaseb’s Vulkan Ruine Tours and Transfers is one of Namibia’s fast growing black owned tour operator and airport Transfers company that offers tour trips to Etosha National Park, Sosssusvlei, Cape Cross and Fish River Canyon among others.
His tour operating business conducts tour trips around the country while the transfer division is mostly involved in moving guests from the airport and to their locations around Windhoek.
His great expectations about the World Cup took him to Europe on a Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) sponsored trip meant for several courses on the industry and the then envisaged massive spill overs from the 2010 showcase.
“The World Cup did not bring in business but rather brought many flight cancellations from South Africa as tourists who would have come to Namibia via South Africa remained in that country and that affected our industry”, he explains.
He had strategically grown his company around the great expectations of the World Cup, hence in two years of its existence, Vulkan Ruine Tours and Transfers boast of a staff compliment of ten, that’s eight drivers, a tour consultant and an office administrator.
In the process, he acquired three 23-seater Sprinters, a 14 seater Quntam, three Toyota Corollas, a ten-seater Microbus, one TDI VW eight seater and a 22-seater Toyota Hino Overlander Truck, all in the name of the World Cup spin offs.
“But the opposite happened, and many South Africans stayed in their country and showed their support to the World Cup and European tourists went to visit South Africa and experience all the organised World Cup activities in that country. We (Namibia) did not do enough to create activities that would have attracted tourists to Namibia from especially South Africa. Something should have been done to attract those South Africans who are not into football. There are a lot of rugby-crazy South Africans who would have chosen somewhere else to go far from the football-craziness that besieged South Africa,” he says. Born in Karibib, Gawaseb started his transfer business with only one car, a Toyota Tazz which he used to transport clients from the Hosea Kutako International Airport
He strikes a bitter man reluctantly distancing himself from the World Cup debate.
“I am new in this industry and I cannot speak on behalf of other operators and stakeholders who some of them might have benefited but all I can tell you is that there have been a lot of flight cancellations from South Africa to Namibia. Tourists who were in South Africa and intending to come this side later changed their minds, because there was fire that side. There was no fire this side. Flight cancellations impacted negatively in our airport transfer business operations,” he says.
He adds, “In the business, tours are booked a year in advance and you have great expectations to it. But things began changing when airlines like SAA cancelled flights and booking them on Air Namibia because few people were coming this side. The whole world was going to SA. Passengers or tourists don’t like to be moved around flights. No wonder some ended up cancelling the trips altogether.”
The Namibian Tourism Board which is responsible for marketing the Namibian tourism industry said it is too early to comment on whether the World Cup has been beneficial to the Namibian tourism industry until a detailed report with input from all stakeholders is compiled.
“We are going to compile a detailed report that will include the inputs of all registered stakeholders such as hotels and guesthouses, tours and transfers operator and airports. This report will help us assess the occupancy rate within hotels and arrivals at airports and will help us reach a conclusion on whether the tourism industry has benefited from the World Cup”, said Maggy Mbako, NTB Corporate Communications Officer.
According to Mbako, NTB marketing strategies during the World Cup season were mainly targeted at South Africans especially the Afrikaners market that is not soccer fanatic.
“Our marketing strategies in South Africa were aimed at luring South Africans running away from the soccer fever in that country to come visit Namibia and I can tell you we have succeeded in that. During the World Cup, every fifth car in Swakopmund and Walvis Bay had a South African number plate,” she argued.
Mbako remains cautious, though optimistic that since the Namibian tourism season normally starts in June through to September, there is still more room and time for tourists to visit Namibia after the World Cup.
But for Gawaseb whose growth was largely enabled by the NTB, which took him to attend several international travel shows in London and Berlin before the World Cup, very little met his expectations for the global soccer showpiece. All he is left with are the skills empowered onto him in those pre-World Cup workshops and exercises.
“I am grateful to the NTB which afforded me the opportunity to attend these events and exhibit my products and services. I was able to network with travel agents in those countries and establish partnerships that resulted in them recommending and referring their clients to my services.”
The London and Berlin travel shows are the world largest and attract from all sectors of the international travel and tourism industry and include government tourism offices, national and regional tourism organizations, tour operators, hotels, airline carriers, insurance companies, communication and information systems, and travel agencies.
Gawaseb speaks of the many challenges facing black tour operators especially when competing with established tour operators some of whom have been in existence for more than 30 years.
“Established tour operators have over the years built up a loyal clientele for themselves and it is hard for an upcoming entrepreneur to break this bond. In the end we are forced to deal with very small agents in Europe.”
He said when one visits the Namibian stands at international exhibition; one may get the impression that Namibia perhaps is a European country because it is mostly Namibians of European origins that are visible unlike other African countries such as Malawi and Tanzania that are mostly represented by black entrepreneurs.
“Attending and exhibiting at these shows is very expensive for upcoming entrepreneurs but it’s a very effective marketing strategy. Trade fairs are about building relationships and promoting your products and services and networking and getting agents.”
He is now working flat out to cover the loopholes left by the 2010 World Cup and plans to do so by further cementing his clientele base through aggressive marketing and quality service.
For him, building a clientele base is not an overnight thing, and new entrepreneurs must aim to attend such trade fairs and getting acquainted with travel agents from around the globe.
Gawaseb’s marketing strategies includes a well maintained and updated website, brochures in both English and German, word of mouth and providing quality services.
His company also advertise its services in booklets such as ‘Where to Stay in Namibia’ and ‘Encounter Africa.’
“You have to think the way your clientele think, if you are dealing with Germans, think like a German and if you are dealing with English, think like the English, that way you build up a relationship based on trust, accompanied by quality services.”
Gawaseb strives to be at par with established operators when it comes to the quality of services so that his services get recommendations from those that have utilised them when they go back to their countries.
“If you provide quality services to your clients, the same clients will go back and inform their friends in their respective countries and recommend your services. We do not only blame the World Cup alone. When the recession started to bite late 2008, many people cancelled their plans for 2010 travel also.
Of course, we were now waiting for those travelling in the name of the World Cup mainly. So the industry now has to make sure it is ready for those that will start bookings for 2011 now that the recession is easing. Among other things, it is marketing and also making sure that our vehicles are well maintained and our drivers are well trained.”
He said upcoming tour operators struggle with fleet maintenance which is very important because of the embarrassment that always comes when a car breaks down while transporting tourists.
“Such a situation is embarrassing and can ruin your company’s reputation for good.”
His company has an agreement with the Namibia Airports Company to provide airport taxi services at Hosea Kutako International Airport. Airport taxi services are meant for those arrivals that do not have prior transport arrangements into the capital.
The company also has an agreement with the Country Club Resort and Casino Hotel to transport their employees to and from work.
Vulkan Ruine Tours and Transfers works with UK based Audrey Travel to transport visitors to guesthouses as well as with Jenman Safaris based in South Africa to transport their clients using chartered overlander trucks.
Last year, Gawaseb did a TV promo with German television channel HRTV1 filming nature and tourism scenes in Namibia where his company was responsible for giving tour and transfer services in exchange of free publicity through HRTV1, something that has contributed to Vulkan Ruine Tours and transfers gaining remarkable reputation within the German market.
For a company established deep in the midst of the financial crisis where many people began cutting short their travel budget, there is no doubt that Vulkan Ruine Tours and Transfers had been counting on the success of the World Cup coming to Southern Africa.
Gawaseb 40, remembers how his mother, Anna-Magreth Gawases bailed him out when his company started amidst the global meltdown with a N$100 000 injection that was mainly offered with great expectations from the FIFA World Cup.
Ms Gawases had been a government matron for years before retiring.
“That is why at times I can wake up at 4am and do the driving of tourists myself because this is a legacy and I cannot let down those who had faith in me.
I cannot go around blaming the World Cup for poor business. I would rather work hard and come out of this strong. I want Vulkan Ruine Tours and Transfers to operate and grow to be Namibia’s leading tour operator.”
But he is wary of the fact that there is a perception within some quarters within the tourism industry that black tour operators are not trustworthy agents and only established white tour operators can run the show.
“We do not want to discriminate or be discriminated upon but black operators must change this perception through the provision of quality and reliable services and engaging in massive marketing strategies. We can do it,” he concludes.PF