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Expert Essay
Transformation: The Role of Coastal and Marine Tourism in a Sustainable Ocean Economy

How can coastal and marine tourism be a foundational building block for supporting countries to transition to a sustainable ocean economy?

Republic Of Namibia
Republic Of Namibia
Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism

Namibia boasts a rich and unique diversity of marine and coastal species and ecosystems. The living and non-living natural resources in the ocean and the associated biological diversity are the backbone of the Namibian ocean economy. The aim is to ensure that the marine biodiversity and natural resources continue to support socio-economic development through maintaining the services they provide and which many of the sectors such as fisheries and tourism depend upon for their long-term existence.

Tourism is recognized as a global sector which contributes to economic growth and development. In general tourism development potentially offers many benefits including GDP contribution, increased income, revenue generation, employment creation and poverty alleviation. These economic benefits can only be comprehended if tourism is managed in a sustainable way whereby positive impact is maximized with minimal negative impact.

Namibia’s rich natural beauty and diversity has enabled the country to become one of the prime eco-tourism destinations in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Although the majority of recreational activities are concentrated inland, marine and coastal tourism is an essential component of the country’s recreational offer alongside the Atlantic Ocean and in towns such as Walvis bay, Swakopmund, Hentiesbay, Luderitz and Oranjemund.

Namibia’s entire coastal area is proclaimed as a protected area, consisting of four National Parks namely, Tsau //Khaeb (Sperrgebiet) National Park, Namib Naukluft National Park, Dorob-National Park and Skeleton Coast Park. This puts Namibia in a very unique and advantageous position. Considering the level of protection along the coast, development is very controlled and limited to eco-friendly operators or public private partnerships with adjacent communities. Namibia is able to protect the pristine coastline by adopting environmentally friendly policies and regulations, and by allowing only companies that consider the sensitivity of the environment to operate. This is not only beneficial to operators, but sends a strong signal for all stakeholders to align their businesses accordingly.

The growth of the Sustainable tourism industry

Sustainable tourism is “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities (UNWTO)”.[1]

Tourism is and will continue to be a growing industry along the coast and in Namibia in general. Namibia’s development goal for its tourism sector is to position Namibia as a world class sustainable marine and coastal tourism destination through the development of sustainable marine and coastal tourism activities and industries through protection of the marine and coastal environment. This in turn attracts the visitors upon which tourism activities rely and promotes diversification of the marine and coastal tourism activities which increases the value of the country’s natural and heritage assets.

Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered an unprecedented crisis in the tourism economy. The Government of Namibia is committed to support the tourism sector including the growth of coastal and marine tourism. The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism has developed Namibia’s Tourism Recovery Plan 2022 -2024 (NTRP) mobilize relevant synergy amongst stakeholders to secure the re-emergence of the tourism industry. The NTRP sets out a framework for tourism strategic approach for policy intervention and with situational-based revisit to ensure the right policy and strategic programs are in place at each stage of the recovery phase. The NTRP further provides targeted strategic interventions, programs and activities to be carried out for the next three years for the revival and support to the tourism sector in Namibia.

Coastal and marine tourism helps strengthen the resilience of host destinations through fiscal stimulus, when directed toward aiding the recovery and transition of the tourism sector. Fiscal support should be done in estimation with the theoretical models which can help identify potential macroeconomic scenarios and in turn draw policy implications. Using a large-scale macroeconomic model helps to better understand the impact of an exogenous threat on the tourism sector and the broader economy relative to benchmark scenarios. Such a theoretical model is also not as bound by historical estimates of parameters like the gravity model, and can accommodate a unique shock like the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as provide some insights about the nature of long-term economic scarring.


The challenges hampering the development of the coastal and marine tourism are: Lack of policy, regulations and development strategy for the marine tourism (wildlife viewing, small bout tour operators etc.), limited knowledge on the potential of aquatic based tourism in Namibia (main attraction sites & routes), high costs being an entry barrier to cruise tourism by Namibians, limited knowledge on Namibia’s aquatic biodiversity and genetic resources, limited knowledge on Namibia’s aquatic ecosystems and their services and the existing policies. Regulations are more focused on land-based tourism activities with limited strategies for promoting investment in maintaining health aquatic environment to build biodiversity-based resilience to climate change.

Tourism Can Support a Sustainable Ocean Economy

Namibia’s coastal and marine tourism presents a unique opportunity for inclusive growth. The National Tourism Policy 2008 and National Sustainable Tourism Growth and Development Strategy 2016 – 2026 link tourism with conservation and efforts to ensure that the rural communities benefit from tourism activities in protected areas. This ensures that conservancies benefit rural communities including vulnerable and disenfranchised members of the community through employment creation, cash income, social projects and in-kind benefits.

Over the years Namibia has witnessed increased visitation from other African countries such as Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The development of policies or strategies that support such interest from neighboring countries, combined with a strengthened domestic tourism market can offer new opportunities for sustainable coastal and marine tourism in Namibia. Most destinations around the world have reached top destination statuses by strengthening domestic tourism In many cases, this is dependent on a number of additional factors, such as disposable income, which may not apply to the same extent in Namibia. Therefore, Namibia could pursue a different approach that motivates locals to travel by diversifying product offerings.

An example of regional collaboration is the Benguela Current Convention (BCC). The Convention is a formal treaty between the governments of Angola, Namibia and South Africa that sets out the countries’ intention to promote a coordinated regional approach to the long-term conservation, protection, rehabilitation, enhancement and sustainable use of the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem in order to provide economic, environmental and social benefits.

In an effort to build back better and forward, the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT), with the support of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and UN Namibia has today launched the Tourism Satellite Account (TSA), providing a basis for the country moving forward towards resilience and economic diversification.  The development of the TSA is anchored under Strategic Objective Number 2 of the National Strategy on Sustainable Heritage Tourism Development and Employment Creation Opportunities at the Community Level (202-2030).

Financing Sustainable Tourism

To enable the transformation of the coastal and marine tourism sector in Namibia, new financing mechanisms, tools and access to capital markets are needed to act as a positive incentive for sustainable, inclusive and resilient ocean activities. Innovative financial instruments can enable new entrants, including women, youth, and marginalized communities, into the coastal and marine tourism while reducing the overexploitation of ocean resources. These tools can also facilitate effective management and governance while promoting the security of the ocean space in a context of increased access to new ocean resources.

We propose the following new finance mechanisms:

  • Develop Private-Public Partnerships (PPPs) to stimulate the flow of investible ocean deals needed to overcome the initial short-term capital costs required for investments in projects, such as renewable ocean energy and ocean/marine infrastructure. Lack of initial short-term capital is one of the key barriers to achieving scale. The PPPs agreement allow sharing of funding, expertise, and access to technology and resources, and often end up leveraging significant new funds and interest for conservation, however such agreements are relatively rare in the marine environment, most probably due to the lack of clear and tradable property rights.
  • Conservation Trust Funds and Endowments which are private, legally independent institutions will provide sustainable financing for biodiversity conservation, including providing finance for the long-term management costs of Namibia ‘s marine protected area system. Conservation activities and sustainable development initiatives outside protected areas can also be used to introduce support investments in sustainable coastal and marine tourism. Conservation Trust Funds and endowments will allow us to combining short-term financing to meet immediate needs with a long-term financing strategy, and the government is committed to the conservation effort, with adequate policy and legislative frameworks in place, to ensure success in collaborative effort to support investments in sustainable coastal and marine tourism.
  • User Fees and Rights-Based Tourism Revenues will allow revenue generation from those that directly benefit from marine and coastal tourism and services, whereby the funds flow either to the general government coffers or more directly to marine protected area or costal parks management activities. User fees will generally target tourists and visitors into the skeleton coast Park, Dorob-National Park, Namib Naukluft Park and Tsau //Khaeb (Sperrgebiet) National Park. In Namibia, user fees mechanisms can be used where a marine protected area has been established by introducing a mechanism for collecting entry or use fees payments (already exist model).
  • Eco-certification and Eco-labelling Revenues does not generate financing directly, however a portion of the premiums that eco-certified products generate can be pooled to enhance management. This can occur through profit-pooling done through fisheries associations, which then actively manage or co-manage fish stocks and associated essential fish habitat.
  • Biodiversity and Carbon Offsets Ecosystem services generated by coastal and marine environment include biodiversity maintenance and carbon sequestration. When these services are lost during development, offsets can be put in place to compensate for the losses. Marine biodiversity offsets can in theory provide revenue generation for ongoing marine and coastal tourism management, in addition to creating protected places where offset services will continue to be generated. However, examples of marine offsets are extremely rare. Carbon offsets are more common in coastal environments, given that mangroves sequester large amounts of carbon and are land-based, where property rights are clear. Carbon offsets in mangrove forests is also made easier by the fact that mangrove forest offsetting can follow the models of offsetting in non-coastal forests. However, even more so than in these non-coastal forests, offsets and carbon credit generation in mangrove and other coastal environments will require considered watershed use and condition, including the flow of good quality water in adequate supply to downstream coastal habitats.

More needs to be done to contribute to innovative financing to support best practices and unconventional management approaches that lead to more sustainable tourism models.

One such example is payment for ecosystem services. This is a market-based conservation tool that aims to reward stakeholders and custodians for protection of ecosystem services their land provides:

  • End-users through departure taxes and tourism user fees.
  • Private sector beneficiaries of Ecosystem Services through licenses fees, through payment for Ecosystem Services.
  • Impact investors.
  • Official Development Assistance, public and philanthropic funds channeled through trust funds and conservation agreements.

The use of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) offers another avenue. PPPs refer to a range of possible relationships between public and private actors for the delivery of a common goal in this case the sustainability for the coastal and marine tourism. This partnership should be done in a way that supplements limited public sector capacities to meet the growing demand for the sustainability in the coastal and marine tourism and through extracting long-term value-for-money through appropriate risk transfer to the private sector with regards to the regulation of the coastal and marine tourism activities. Currently we don’t have any formal data on most successful PPPs in Namibia, however a feasibility study is envisaged to review examples of successful PPPs in Namibia and across the world.

Options for Sustainable Coastal and Marine Tourism

Although Namibia already supports a wide array of marine recreational activities, the coastal and tourism sector in Namibia will only be able to realize and exceed the current growth through a greater focus on:

  1. better co-ordination, engagement and investment in infrastructure and the excursion offers of the sector;
  2. improved understanding of the marine and coastal tourism including any potential for its sustainable development; and
  • further research on the (value) contribution of marine tourism is necessary and should aim to identify key areas and requirements for different marine and coastal recreational and tourism activities to allow for better sustainable and responsible growth of the industry.

Research conducted on options for sustainable tourism in Namibia’s coastal zone has provided the following key recommendations [2]:

  • Planning the further development of coastal tourism through application of zoning as informed but the Strategy Environmental Assessment (SEA) process, sound economic analysis, as well as selected use of environmental impact assessment;
  • Increasing the economic contribution and sustainability of all tourism development on the coast by increasing property rights and guided tourism activities, through implementation of the concessions policy;
  • Developing codes of conduct, which aim at sustainability, for tourism investors and operators, and developing further certification of operations on environmental social grounds; and
  • Undertaking an empirical economic survey of coastal tourism activities, and the development of financial/economic models of these to guide planning.

Coastal and marine tourism unfolds itself along three main components in Namibia,  accommodation, the tour operator and the tourism activities such as car hire, travel agents, craft sellers.

Sustainability can only be achieved if all factors are considered in the development stage. Consideration should be put on the environment, to ensure that there is no harm to the environment through unplanned utilization of the resources and people should always be at the center stage of any coastal and marine tourism development. Future sustainable tourism development should ensure that citizens of the area continue to have access to the sea, either through recreational utilization or permission to use ocean resources.


[1] UNTWO. 2019. UNWTO Tourism Definitions. Madrid: UNWTO. https://doi.org/10.18111/9789284420858.

[2] Barnes, Jonathan I., and Moira Alberts. Sustainable natural resource use on the coast of Namibia. Environmental Economics Unit, Directorate of Environmental Affairs, Ministry of Environment and Tourism, 2008.

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