Travel provides a wonderful opportunity to create greater cultural understanding and cooperation. I was reminded of this truism this past week.
I had the honor of joining members of a Namibia and Montana tourism exchange for their welcome dinner, held on the grounds of the Billings, MT zoo. After my own recent visit to Namibia, I was eager to share a little Big Sky Country hospitality.
The delegation of 14 Namibian tourism industry representatives, including four conservancy representatives (some of whom are members of the Himba and Herrera tribes), were welcomed by members of Montana’s tourism industry, City of Billings officials and leaders from the Crow Tribe. Before the evening ended, all participants joined in traditional dancing, an auspicious beginning to a multi-faceted visit that will include a tour of southeastern Montana and Yellowstone National Park.
A Ten Day Tour
During the 10-day program, organized by Montana-based, award-winning tour operators Austin-Lehman Adventures, exchange delegates will meet with property owners, managers and government officials to explore how they manage wide open spaces and incorporate sustainable adventure tourism activities such as biking, rafting, wildlife viewing and horseback riding. In turn, the international guests will discuss how their land conservancy model works in Namibia and how it might work on reservations, public and private lands. The tour will wrap up in Bozeman with an American football game as guests of Montana State University.
Participants include ALA, Conservancy Development Support Services (CDSS), Namibian Association of Community Based Natural Resource Management Support Organizations (NACSO), including members of the Himba and Herrera tribes, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and award-winning safari operator Wilderness Safaris.
The Namibian visitors will learn about adventure tourism, inclusive of such issues as client safety, security and liability, and sustainability as practiced by ALA, an established adventure tour operator conducting business worldwide. Along the way they will be exposed to the guiding practices and interpretation techniques that comprise a significant part of the visitor experience while on an adventure travel tour.
In Yellowstone National Park they will meet with park officials as well as representatives of Xanterra Corporation, the largest US National Park concessionaire, about how they manage their environmental footprint.
Cross-cultural exchanges between the Namibians and Native American tribal leaders from southeast Montana will delve into how to establish and operate indigenous tourism experiences, while Montana state officials will discuss how to establish and manage a dedicated fund to support small and medium tourism enterprises.
Namibia's Important Collaborations
Because of the sheer volume of Namibia’s tourism joint ventures, Dan Austin, ALA’s founder and owner, says Namibia offers a true education into how private and public sectors collaborate with host communities. All the joint ventures in the communal conservancies combined represent 1,356 bed nights, over 900-plus full-time jobs and over 250 seasonal positions.
“In the process, not only are communities benefitting in ways previously unimaginable, but the national tourism product is being redefined in more equitable and sustainable ways,” notes Austin, pointing out that nearly half of the country’s 76 registered conservancies are adjacent to national parks or in key corridors between protected areas. Wildlife-friendly land uses adjacent to and between parks are enhancing the viability of Namibia’s protected area network. The recovery of prey species, combined with an increased tolerance of community, is facilitating the recovery of high-level predators on a landscape level in north-western Namibia.
Namibia is the only country in Africa where black rhinos are successfully being translocated out of a national park and into communal conservancy land areas, in stark and dramatic contrast to the poaching taking place in many countries in the region. Its free-roaming lion population is expanding thanks to a dramatic decrease in poaching.
As this country repeatedly undertakes the largest road-based wildlife count in the world, its conservation success stories stand out in sharp contrast to most African countries where wildlife populations and habitats are rapidly declining.
“Namibia very well may be one of the greatest African wildlife recovery stories to be told,” believes Austin, whose company has run multi-sport vacation opportunities here since 2008.
Photos: Copyright Lynn O'Rourke Hayes