The majority work as freelance guides for tour operators and so earn an income sporadically while only a few tour guides are permanently employed.
Heinrich Hafeni from Hafeni Cultural Tours and Travel in Swakopmund is part of the latter group, and he believes the emergence of community tourism is fundamental for the betterment of the country.
He added that he wants to use community tourism to empower the poor in Swakopmund.
“I want to start an initiative that focuses on product development and the type of products which the locals can manufacture to attract the tourists,” he said.
The 36-year-old grew up in Swakopmund and he proudly narrates how his mother and grandmother raised him to become the figure he is today.
“When I take tourists on tour I make sure they are educated about the town because when you are a tour guide you are basically an ambassador of your town and country,” he said.
Hafeni is familiar with the locals; from the street vendors, taxi drivers, supermarket owners and just ordinary people; these are just some of the people who greet him non-stop as he guides tourists around the coastal town.
“You can see that I have links to most of the vendors and informal traders. This business can only be successful if you work with the people, especially the informal businesses because they are the ones who tell the real story to the tourists. Therefore I believe that community tourism empowers the whole system because as I take tourists around we have stops at the vendors so that tourists can see the local products and buy the ones that interest them,” he narrated.
Hafeni’s tours includes stops at a local crèche as well as the poverty-stricken DRC informal settlement. At the crèche, tourists are exposed to the history of the Namibian genocide in 1903/04.
A key number of guides have started their own tour operating business and they do their own marketing and mostly provide unique, off-the-beaten-track tours.
This is a refreshing addition to the tourism product that is offered by big operators, but not many guides can afford to take this step. Mostly these guides-cum-tour-operators also work for other tour operators as a side-line.
For close to 10 years, Hafeni has shared his vast reservoir of knowledge on Swakopmund. During countless three-hour walking and driving tours, the tourism ambassador has schooled thousands of tourists on the past, present and future plans of Swakopmund.
Hafeni said his background in the Swakopmund hotel industry has given him the necessary skills to run a tour business, saying “that experience taught me how to interact with tourists.”
“Most of the tourists come from developed nations, therefore when they come here they want to see the indigenous side of our society,” he said.
Apart from being a tour guide, he also owns a restaurant that sells traditional food.
In the near future, an optimistic Hafeni said, “I want to open a hotel.”
Customary to the struggles of start-ups, Hafeni said accessing finance continues to be one of the biggest impediments.
“I have applied for finance with the Development Bank of Namibia but all my attempts were unsuccessful. I have started engaging the African development Bank to see if I can get assistance there,” he said.
His tour business and the restaurant currently employs nine people.
“It is tough in business, but I have a dedicated team that shares my vision. I am happy that I can contribute to make the lives of fellow Namibians better. The restaurant has become famous in town and tourists have also taken an interest,” he said.
Hafeni is concerned about the unemployment rate in the town, especially among the youth.
He also urged the authorities to seek input from the communities when embarking on new projects.
“We have a open market that is currently a white elephant because Council did not consult the vendors when they built the market. Vendors complain that the market is not well-positioned and that moving to the market will disadvantage their business,” he said.