Wednesday, September 30, 2020

BIDPA challenges high economic rents, protectionist tourism sector

Like other sectors of the economy, tourism industry has often pointed a finger at government when things are not going well.

Both government and observers have suggested to the tourism industry to supplement what government is doing with its own initiatives.

Dr Happy Fidzani, Executive Director of Botswana Institution of Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA), has found a number of loop holes in the tourism sector.

“It is a high economic rents sector. It is protectionist and it is highly undiversified both in terms of product range and geographical distribution,” Fidzani told a recent HATAB open season in Kasane.

Other characters seen in the industry are that it has weak linkages with other sectors of the economy.

His comments come at a time when Botswana economy is struggling in a recessionary environment that has denied the country income from cash cow diamond sector.

He said it was time other sectors (including tourism) took over. Tourism is No 2 revenue earner for government after diamonds raking few Billions of Pula annually while beef industry makes about P500 million annually.

The undiversified nature of Botswana tourism product is manifested from its concentration in Moremi and Chobe areas where there are swamps.

This represents 90 percent concentration and analysts have called for diversification to attract domestic travel.

Fidzani added that this is made worse by weaker air access both infrastructure and policy wise.

“The infrastructure is a major issue and it has crippled the growth of the industry,” he said. “It should be robust to help the growth of the sector.”

This is made worse by the over protection of national carrier Air Botswana, which he said has been detrimental to the growth of the industry.

However, he acknowledged the ongoing airports projects that will see Botswana major airports in Gaborone, Francistown, Maun and Kasane improved to handle larger volumes.

There is already an element of liberalisation of the airspace as evidenced by new entrants to the market.

Kenya Airways recently introduced a route to Botswana via Harare while South African Airways joined Air Botswana and South African Express for the Johannesburg-Gaborone shorter route

The minister of Works and Transport Frank Ramsden said his ministry is in discussions with a number of airliners to operate Botswana route.

These airliners include Air Mauritius, Qatar, British Airways, Singapore Airways, KLM, and Angola amongst others.

BIDPA suggests that there should be coordination for the sector to flourish.

At government level, Fidzani observed that even if there is ministry responsible for tourism matters (Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism), there are issues that fall outside its ambit.

The Community Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) model is also said to be challenged and therefore it means the sector’s ability to address poverty alleviation issues are seriously hampered.

Kitso Mokaila, minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism warned that ‘CBNRM is not working’ and he warned he will take that money and dictate how it is spent.

HATAB Chairman, Boitumelo Sekwababe, acknowledged the BIDPA observations and promised to work on the concerns.

“We know our challenges and we really need to work with government,” he said.

“This is one area for potential growth and great challenge for government. It is a challenge because we expect it to create jobs and diversify the economy.”

Currently, the tourism sector employs 22, 000 people.

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