Fierce Battle in National Parks between Conservationism and Commerce

(Sossusvlei 900-year old trees)

The arid dry and scorching grounds of Sossusvlei showcase the continuous battle that exists in the tourism industry between exploiting the gifts of nature for the sake of commerce, and the wish to preserve the grounds in its most authentic state.

It was 32C just after midday this Thursday when after hiking the majestic Dune 45, to obtain a bird’s eye view of the sprawling Namibian desert, that our guide pushed us onward to a 2.2km hike in the heatstroke inducing sun. The rolling dune pathways took us to a bone-dry finale of the riverbed full of 900-year old trees. With little imagination the panoramic view could either be a scene from the Mad Max or Martian movies. The scenery was magnificent to take in, however standing around worsened the dehydration of the group, who endured 7-hour long trip to Natikluft desert.

“I need a beer”, “I’m craving an ice-cream”, and “I’d love a soda” were among many phrases overheard on the hike, and highlighted the opportunity that is being missed out on in the Park. After the hike we had to wait another 90 minutes before the sight of first bar or gift shop, and it represents a sharp contrast between Namibia and Jordan.

Having visited Petra in the blazing hot summer last year, with temperatures reaching 40C+, I was amazed by how commercialised Petra has become. Almost everywhere along the route you could buy soda, water, fridge magnets or postcards. If you ventured left or right you would find a different vendor eager to take your money and satisfy your needs. In Sossusvlei this was completely missing.

Countries that are eager to preserve their ecosystems have a credible argument to keep the environment in its natural state. Both Botswana and Namibia are famous for the vast open reserves kept for the wildlife. However, with both states facing budgetary pressures, both governments are not taking advantage of the opportunities presented in front of them. After reaching the petrol station at the exit of the Sossusvlei national park, I was astounded to find 330ml Coke priced at N$10, less than US$0.70.

Western companies have perfected the art of stratifying the market place, and maximising revenue from each consumer segment. Namibia is sitting on a potential gold mine of revenues with continuous inflows of visitors from Germany, France, USA and South Africa. At a small cost of temporary and non-permanent structure the revenues could easily grow, at the same time as completely limiting the environmental impact. A simple solution will not only contribute to the Namibian economy, but also satisfy many of us that were desperate to quench our thirst.

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