When no service is the best service: Natural beauty and economic growth thrive in Namibia.
April 23, 2014
Protecting a country’s natural resources can lead to new opportunities for economic growth. The people of the ≠Khoadi-//Hôas Conservancy in Namibia are using the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s investment to bring these opportunities to life. Grootberg Lodge is part of the Ecotourism Development in Conservancies Project of MCC’s $304.4 million compact with Namibia.
No service. It’s a familiar modern harbinger of imminent frustration. When this message replaces the reassuring presence of three to five bars in the upper left hand corner of a phone’s display, the mental gymnastics of letting go of email, texts and having the Internet at immediate command begin. But for guests of Grootberg Lodge, located in the ≠Khoadi-//Hôas Conservancy on the Etkendeka Plateau of Namibia’s Kunene region, this message is a reminder that they’re exactly where they want to be.
Established in July 1998 through the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, ≠Khoadi-//Hôas Conservancy benefits its more than 3,000 residents with programs that take advantage of the region’s extraordinary natural beauty and wildlife. The conservancy’s innovative approach to addressing such challenges as human-wildlife conflict and rare species poaching has made a remarkable difference in the area. The conservancy makes life better for residents by helping them no longer view wildlife as a nuisance or threat and by generating revenue through ecotourism. Grootberg (which means Big Mountain) Lodge—wholly owned by the conservancy’s residents—is a big part of what is making the difference.
Renovated and expanded in 2012 by Millennium Challenge Account-Namibia (MCA-Namibia), the local organization managing the implementation of Namibia’s MCC compact, the lodge offers guests a wide range of ecotourism activities–including black rhino and elephant tracking, visits to the Himba people (an ancient tribe of nomadic herders) and guided walks through the plateaus overlooking the Klip River Valley—all provided by employees from the local community. Over 95 percent of the lodge’s employees are conservancy and community residents, and their employment provides a livelihood much different from subsistence livestock farming or odd jobs. For employees like Susanna !Hoages and Otniel ‘’Areseb, that employment has blossomed into careers.
Susanna !Hoages, 27, began her employment at Grootberg in 2006 as a waitress, with the lodge providing on-the-job training. After taking an interest in the “back of the house” activities in the kitchen, management transferred Susanna in 2009 to another lodge to serve as an assistant chef trainee. Excelling in this role, Susanna was sent to the Namibian Institute of Culinary Education before returning to Grootberg Lodge to serve as food and beverage manager. Susanna appreciates the difference the lodge has made in her life and that of the community at large.
“Employment at Grootberg Lodge is one of my benefits… as well as [for] the community as a whole and my family. I’m working, I’m earning money… the lodge is earning money—which is a benefit to the community. This money that is produced or the profits that [are] coming into the lodge, it’s shared with the community.”
Otniel ‘’Areseb, 48, helped build Grootgerg Lodge. In November 2004, he was literally in the trenches, digging the paths for the plumbing pipes that serve the 16 lodge chalets, main building and staff quarters.
Upon its opening in June 2005, Otniel was employed as a bartender and later promoted to project manager for maintenance. Otniel now serves as floor manager, which means he is responsible for managing the staff that attends to guests in the main building and restaurant—a role critical to guests’ perceptions of their experience at the lodge. A consistently high level of service is Otniel’s continuing goal:
“We have many guests who are here three, four times. This is what we want to see with our service.”
“No service” might be welcome when escaping the modern grind, but while visiting Grootberg Lodge, it will be confined to a phone’s display during a rhino tracking expedition or a plateau walk (yes, there is wifi in the main lodge). For lodge staff, continuing to raise the service bar for themselves and the lodge is the best way to ensure the benefits for the community’s economic prosperity will continue to grow.