Etuna sets new tourism trends in the North

DESPITE tourism being the fastest growing sector in Namibia with an expectation that it will be the country’s largest GDP contributor by 2030, the accommodation business in Northern Namibia has never been taken seriously in the industry as most people traveling to that part of the country, have families and friends to stay with when they visit.

Namibia, with the size of France and Germany combined, is blessed with extensive tracts of wilderness and a rich diversity of scenery.

A myth exist that the Northern part of the country, the Four O’s, which has the Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena and Otjikoto regions, has little to offer in terms of tourism attraction.

This, although the area is a hub of activities for locals, undeniably the country’s cultural heartland, forming Namibia’s most densely populated region and increasingly becoming investor attractive.

Ndahambelela Nekwaya runs one of the most prominent tourism hotspots in this vibrant and prosperous rural society that buzzes with activity. She is the proud owner of Etuna Guesthouse, tucked away in a quiet corner of Ongwediva but attracting many visitors.

The guesthouse, founded in 2006, with just four rooms now has 21 rooms and the 45 year old entrepreneur now employs 12 people.

“Our business is mainly for the local people and while some people question why we need to be involved in accommodation business when almost everyone who comes to the North will go straight to their family homes, you will be surprised that we have, indeed, made a mark amidst such risks,” says Meme Nekwaya, as she is fondly known.

Etuna Guesthouse sells an average 600 beds every two months and the only time of the year that the business is slow is January, she says.

Armed with only her grade 12 education, the mother of three started off like any ordinary women nowadays; “doing something small to keep you going.”

It was as early as 1994 when she decided to compliment the family’s income by selling Avroy Shlain Cosmetics products. Avroy Shlain Cosmetics is the largest direct selling beauty house in South Africa today, incorporating a full spectrum of beauty and personal care products.

“I started selling their products in Namibia especially here in the North, and I grew to become their regional distributor in Namibia,” says Meme Nekwaya.

Entrepreneurship is the pervasive force of Avroy Shlain Cosmetics and built on a thriving skincare business, they have a rapidly expanding network of distributors.

“They now have a distributor base of 25 000, making it a thriving business with strong African roots and expanding international links. What they would do is that every year-end, they would take the best distributors, those that would have met their targets; on vacation in Europe.

I beat the target many times, between 1994 and 2005 I beat my targets and was taken abroad by Avroy Shlain Cosmetics in all those years. I fell in love with tourism every time we would go outside the country. The things we would see in Europe struck me very much as their tourism and hospitality industry has really thrived. It motivated me to start my own business in the industry,” she says. She is still involved Avroy Shlain Cosmetics as distributor despite her thriving accommodation business.

Etuna Guesthouse is an up-market tourism business with spacious en-suite rooms, Internet access, Visa and Mastercard facilities, barbeque and laundry services, cultural excursions, and private bar for residents and air-conditioners in all rooms.

Etuna which, roughly translated from Oshiwambo, means ‘he is taking care of us’ – a sentiment put into practice to cater to guests’ every needs.

But Meme Nekwaya says the name is derived from a combination of her three kids, Hilka Tuyeni Kelao, George Natangwe and Etuna.

“The ‘E’ comes from the last born Etuna, the ‘Tu’ is from Tuyeni and ‘Na’ from Natangwe,” she explains.

Her husband, an employee of the AgriBank in Oshakati is most supportive of her tourism initiatives, she says. “He empowers me to empower myself. As he says, I must learn to live beyond his means and he does not have influence in the running of the business. He respects that and it has motivated me not to let him down.”

The Guesthouse has a warm and welcoming atmosphere coupled with all the modern conveniences that meets today’s traveler’s demands.

“It has become a destination of choice for those seeking rest and relaxation in truly tranquil surroundings,” states Nekwaya.

Of late, there has been an increasing interest in her facilities from government and Non-governmental organizations that are keen to use the facilities either for conferencing or for accommodation.

Nekwaya has been fortunate to undergo numerous training to enhance her skills in the business over the years.

Of note, she recently participated in a Tourism SME Mini Road show organized by the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB).

The NTB, in line with its mandate of providing training to people engaged or to be engaged in the tourism industry, initiated the mini road show for SMMEs in Germany and Switzerland.

A host of entrepreneurs within the tourism sector entered the selection process where BEE tourism related entrepreneurs would be supported to successfully access the international market.

Nekwaya was among the ten chosen finals and took the trip to Europe where Etuna Guesthouse managed to establish strategic business alliances.

“It was an eye opening experience for me. We were exposed to the international marketing platforms such as trade fair participation, media roundtables, and workshops. Besides creating international exposure and awareness, it did trigger a lot in me. I am more focused than ever,” says Nekwaya.

But her biggest challenge is the continued lack of skills in the industry. She says though she is not scared of the competition that she gets from established hotels within the Northern area, lack of skills always dents much of her desires.

“Some of us do it fromthe heart and love of the trade, but we lack skills. We constantly require sharpening of skills on par with hotels. Hotels have trained people, staff that has been to college and universities to learn the tourism industry. That is my biggest challenge, I always have to be a step ahead of them to win, but with their educational expertise, at times the tough gets going,” laments Nekwaya.

She is encouraged by the fact that more people are coming out of their houses to sleep out or dine out.

Etuna Guesthouse targets an 80% occupancy rate within the next three years from the current, 40%.
With tariffs ranging from N$390.00 to N$650.00 in chalets, luxury flats and family rooms, the Guesthouse is already fully booked for the grand occasion of Northern Namibia, the Ongwediva Trade Fair.

The Ongwediva Trade Fair runs from the 25th of August and offers much business to the Etuna Guesthouse, and at the time of going to print, Nekwaya was buoyant over the June Tourism Expo in Windhoek.PF