While some Covid 19 travel restrictions imposed in 2020 have eased, in Botswana, international travel seems far from recovery. Part of the problem, pundits maintain, is due to lack of business travel, and international tourism.
At the moment, official figures show that Inbound and outbound travel looks likely to be the sector most likely to suffer a financial version of long Covid partly because a large part of the world is still lagging far behind when it comes to vaccination.
Thulagano Segokgo – minister responsible for transport has said that the aviation industry in Botswana has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. In an address aired on the state television – Btv, Segokgo said air travel has been reduced by 90 percent, reflecting a similar reduction in revenues for industry players.
Segokgo said in response to the hit, Botswana continues to seek avenues, partnerships, and alliances, as well as luring investors to identify Botswana as a potential tourism destination to ensure the survival of the aviation industry. “Discussions to attract Airlines to operate and transit through Botswana happen at various levels and include several stakeholders such as Civil Aviation Authority Botswana (CAAB), Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) and airlines to attract tourism and business travel,” Segokgo said. The sustenance of scheduled flights largely depends on the growing demand for the service by tourists and businesses to travel to Botswana and the region.
Discussing international air travel, the minister said the country has limited flights since mid-November 2020. “Botswana has lost three airlines that used to service our airports as a result of depressed demand for the service due to Covid-19 related movement restrictions impacting negatively on our tourism and business travel,” said Segokgo on national television.
He added that “these are Qatar Airways, which was serving mostly our business and tourism travel, Air Namibia and South African Express Airways, which was serving our business travel between Windhoek, Durban and Johannesburg.”
Some of these airlines have been liquidated, leaving princely amounts of money owed to CAAB. The discontinuation of these airlines means a massive loss of revenue to CAAB in terms of landing fees, passenger tax and parking fees. Segokgo said that concessioners inside the terminal building are also closing shop due to the reduced number of passengers at airports, noting that the local employees for these airlines have lost their employment.
The transport minister also said domestic flights have been ongoing since the 17th of July 2020. To augment the low travel demand, Air Botswana introduced scenic flights to encourage domestic air travel and enhance opportunities for revenue generation. However, due to depressed air travel, Air Botswana has been undertaking regional flights, only flying to Johannesburg.
Segokgko said his ministry has revised scheduling operations to match travel demand patterns. They’ve also considered the evaluation and diversification of Air Botswana business operating model to accommodate cargo, charter services, leasing to augment passenger revenue.
Other steps taken to resuscitate the national airline’s revenues include relocating Francistown, Main Mall, Maun and Kasane sales offices to smaller and cost-effective premises to promote cost-saving. The airline is exploring opportunities for the leasing of aircraft to other operators to earn revenues for the Airline and reducing insurance premiums owing to the reduced operational frequencies.
Covid-19 steered Air Botswana to promote online web sales available to customers for convenience and to reduce interaction between customers and personnel.
In addition, there has been an adjustment of departure times to the CAAB airport operation plan and Covid-19 check-in procedures, including boarding times, aircraft turnaround times, revised schedules and combining of flights.
Remote and virtual inspection has been introduced by international aviation bodies in pursuance of international aviation standard bodies, resulting in reduced expenses and discounted fees for services.
Segokgo said the terminal building at the Maun International airport has been decongested, a development that will accord passengers’ comfort while attracting both local and international tourists.