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Eighteen staff members from three key institutions in the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park attended a pioneering training course from 5 – 9 December 2011. The participants were drawn from the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Namibia Wildlife Resorts and South African National Parks.
/Ai-/Ais Hot Springs Game Park sent two participants, Namibia Wildlife Resort sent two from Hobas Camp and six from the Ai-Ais Resort, while Richtersveld National Park sent eight participants. The 18 participants, who are referred to as frontline staff, included gate attendants, receptionists, housekeeping personnel, restaurant personnel, a field guide and rest/tourism managers. Frontline staff refers to those personnel members who interact directly with tourists as part of their daily work.
The course involved participatory lectures by an external trainer, presentations by respective park managers and Namibia Wildlife Resorts and a detailed discussion on the Transfrontier Park by its international coordinator, Mr Karl Aribeb.
Presentations and lectures were given at both Ai-Ais and Sendelingsdrift and were skilfully combined with visits to key tourist attractions and guided tours of tourism facilities in the Transfrontier Park. The tailor-made course focused on aspects such as receiving visitors in a professional manner, the provision of accurate information to visitors (e.g. gate opening times, prices/rates at different resorts, camps or facilities and pontoon information), other pertinent aspects of the hospitality industry and, most importantly, on the Transfrontier Park itself (its mission, vision, objectives and strategies).
The Transfrontier Park’s management committee, a sub-structure of its joint management board, has realised that, unlike many other national parks and transfrontier conservation areas, /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is not endowed with rich numbers of diverse wildlife species. Said Vinte Mendes Paolo, park warden for /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs Game Park: “The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park’s strength lies in its magnificent desert scenery and the fact that it lies in the Succulent Karoo biome, characterised by its unique biodiversity and high-levels of species endemism.” Added to these are the world-renowned Fish River Canyon, the Ai-Ais Hot Springs, the seasonal Namaqualand flowers and the Richtersveld World Heritage Site.
This distinction from other parks has led the management committee to focus the Transfrontier Park’s implementation strategy on its tourism potential. The strategy revolves around improving service delivery at current facilities, while unlocking opportunities for future development. The park management committee saw the need to begin working towards offering the same experience to tourists in both components of the Transfrontier Park.
Said Nic de Goede, manager of Richtersveld National Park: ” We are keen for the Transfrontier Park to reach the stage where its frontline staff members will have the key information on all tourism operations at their fingertips and will provide this information to tourists in a professional manner, regardless whether they enter on the Namibian or South African side”. This ideal will be pursued through various strategies such as joint branding, dissemination of the same information at all entrance gates, increasing the staff members’ understanding of the goals of the Transfrontier Park, exposing staff members to its tourism facilities and attractions, and providing training to all staff. The training course for frontline staff forms part of this ideal.
The training course was a first for the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld and had a tremendously positive effect on the participating staff members. Not only did they feel appreciated, but they also – for the first time – understood what the Transfrontier Park was all about and how their tasks, however menial, fit into the bigger picture. As an example, Richard Tjingaete (Hobas Camp in /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs Game Park) and Severt Hans (Richtersveld National Park) understood that, as gate attendants, they represented the Transfrontier Park’s first impression as they were the first with whom most visitors came into contact.
Another unique feature of this course was that the two governments and Peace Parks Foundation shared the costs. Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Namibia Wildlife Resorts and South African National Parks paid for all accommodation, meals and transportation while Peace Parks Foundation covered the fees of the external trainer.