The number of passenger movements in all of the country’s airports tapered off in the first quarter of the year (Q1:2017) when compared to previous quarter of last year (Q4:2016) as indicated in the Transport and Infrastructure statistics brief compiled by Statistics Botswana.
The decline does not augur well with continuing efforts by the tourism industry of pulling in tourists for the benefit of bringing money into the country.
According to Statistics Botswana (SB) a total number of 159,584 passenger movements were recorded in Q1:2017 which is a decline of 18.4 percent from 195,475 passenger movements recorded in Q4:2016. The airport that registered the largest decrease is Ghanzi airport at 52 percent followed by Kasane airport at 31.6 percent. Francistown recorded the smallest decline at 11.2 percent with Selibe Phikwe coming in second at 17.1 percent. The biggest airport Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSKIA) recorded a decrease of 13 percent while Maun registered a decline of 25.1 percent. On the other hand a comparison of the first quarter (Q1:2017) with the corresponding period of the previous year (Q1:2016) does however show a paltry increase of 0.04 percent owing to SSKIA as it was the only airport that recorded an increase of 3.3 percent while the rest of the airports recorded a decrease in passenger movements.
A newly released report from Joseph Mbaiwa, a Professor of Tourism Studies at the Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana, titled ‘Poverty or riches: who benefits from the booming tourism industry in Botswana?’ puts the SB statistics into better perspective. Mbaiwa cites the airline and accommodation industries as two primary sectors which generate substantial tourism revenue for any country. He identified the air transport sector as a major area where Botswana can draw a sizeable amount of money from but that seems not to be case as he points out that the national airline is gravely challenged. “Although Air Botswana has been in existence for a rather long time (i.e. since 1972), the airline is largely not fully developed to collect tourists from their countries of origin. As a result, most tourists who visit Botswana do not use Botswana-based airlines for the majority of their air travel. If they do use Air Botswana, it would only be between Johannesburg (South Africa) and Botswana’s main tourism centres,” he says. Mbaiwa says in that regard that the use of other international airlines means that a considerable amount of money is absorbed elsewhere instead of in Botswana. He compared Air Botswana to its peers in Namibia and Zimbabwe, where he observed that despite Botswana attracting a higher number of tourist arrivals she however receives less money from the movements. Mbaiwa attributes this mismatch to the absence of long-haul routes between Botswana and countries from which most of her visitors originate which contrasts Namibia and Zimbabwe as they have home-based international airlines with flights to countries where their tourists come from. “Support for the development and strengthening of Air Botswana’s services, particularly in relation to developing long-haul routes to Europe, America, Asia and Australia ÔÇô where her richer tourists originate from ÔÇô would allow possibilities for much increased tourism revenue that is currently being leaked out to other countries,” he says.
Another report by Mbaiwa titled ‘Effects of the safari hunting tourism ban on rural livelihoods and wildlife conservation in Northern Botswana’ says that since the adoption of Botswana’s Tourism Policy in 1990s, Northern Botswana became a key a wildlife-based tourism destination. The region is home to Kasane and Maun which are gateways to the tourism landscape around them. Kasane, he says, is located in close proximity to the unique natural features supporting large wildlife populations and scenic beauty that attracts thousands of nature-based tourists each year whereas the array of plant and animal life, rich grasslands, forests, and waters of the Okavango Delta also draw thousands of tourists each year. This indicates the area’s popularity with tourists who visit Botswana further suggesting a higher number of passenger movements. In the gateways are airports which given their favorable setting in such an area of high interest suggests that an opportunity exists to establish long haul routes from them. Tapping on this opportunity would mean the country retains money through its air transport sector.