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Tourists finding Namibia

Gretchen Wilson Apr 8, 2008


Renita Jablonski: I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking about some economical, well, summer getaways, especially after that story about the summer gasoline forecast. But if you have the extra cash and are looking for a spot with a different twist than say Orlando or St. Barts, there’s always — Namibia. Unemployment is high, and in the ’80s it was the site of a limited guerilla war. But today its political stability, good roads and sandy beaches make it Brangelina territory. Gretchen Wilson went to the capital, Windhoek, for a tutorial.

Sound of traffic

Gretchen Wilson: Signs of a changing Namibia start here on Fidel Castro Street. So named after 1990 when a Marxist liberation movement secured independence from apartheid South Africa. Now, it’s the building site of one of many new five-star hotels.

Sound of construction

A Marxist political party is still in power up the road. But in this small city, the upper crust can find caviar, sushi and cachet.

Jackie Asheeke: Namibia is not the place that everyone and their mama has been to. And that’s the truth.

Jackie Asheeke is CEO of the Federation of Namibian Tourism Associations.

Asheeke: It’s the “ooh, ahh” factor here. Namibia jumps out as something you want to go back to the office and say, “Guess where we went for holiday.” Namibia. And people go where’s that? That’s what they want!

The New York Times recently called Namibia one of the top places to go in 2008. And tourism from the U.S. has soared more than 250 percent in just over five years. One draw? The space. Namibia’s bigger than Texas, but with only one-tenth the population.

Asheeke: This is a country where nobody’s gonna hound you. The paparazzi can’t even make it to your dune.

Namibia’s desert dunes stretch right to the Atlantic Ocean. And that may’ve been a draw for one famous couple.

Fernando Garces: Brad Pitt used to spend a lot of time on the gym equipment in here.

Fernando Garces runs the Burning Shore Hotel.

Garces: Angelina Jolie just stayed… on the corner here, which overlooked the beach, Long Beacha€¦ (:05)

Two years ago, they came here to give birth to their daughter. For some, that one event put Namibia on the map. Graham Howard is the regional director for Protea Hotels.

Graham Howard: It’s advertising you can’t buy. You know, we were just overnight a country that was suddenly recognizable.

It’s helped bring big business to small enterprises. Neels Dreyer started his ocean safaris a few years ago. Today, he takes 60 people a day onto the Atlantic to spot dolphins, seals and pelicans.

Neels Dreyer: We’re seeing a lot more Americans here. It’s really expanding.

So, who knows, maybe next year’s Spring Break in Namibia?

In Walvis Bay, Namibia, I’m Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.

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