Tourism generates $160 to $300 million every year in Namibia’s economy. Namibia is one of the most arid nations on the planet, receiving an annual average of less than 250mm of rainfall a year. Efforts to achieve sustainable development are hampered by the harsh climate, poor levels of nutrients in the soil and a fragile environment, with nearly two-thirds of the country classified as subject to moderate or extreme risk of degradation.

However, the country also possesses a wide variety of habitats and ecosystems, ranging from desert to savannah and subtropical wetlands, many of which are unique to Namibia. The government recognises that these habitats carry important potential advantages for development as a result of increased tourism. This potential is reflected in the fact that air traffic to and from Namibia has risen by 27% since 2000.

Not only do tourists arriving in Namibia, mainly by air, view the extensive wildlife and visit the unique habitats on offer, they also contribute to their preservation. The Namibian government has established a single entity, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, to manage these closely allied issues.

The United Nations Development Programme is also heavily invested in development of Namibian tourism and has assessed that tourism of the protected areas in 2007 generated annual revenues of between $160 million and $300 million, far outweighing the estimated costs of the protected land system at under $16 million. Relatively modest increases in tourism will provide significant increases in related revenues, according to the United Nations’ estimates, resulting in positive and potentially large returns for the programme.

Encouraging tourism through sustaining the environment also attracted grant funding from the USA under the Millennium Change Account, this included $67 million for the tourism sector, of which over $40 million was dedicated to the national park infrastructure. The Namibian government estimates that this financial contribution created 6,500 new jobs and will provide enhanced opportunities for youth employment.