Government’s failure to ease restrictions on foreign nationals traveling back and forth into Botswana, from countries in the region, to the Republic of South Africa during the course of the 2010 FIFA World Cup games in that country, could deprive Botswana of the much desired spin-off benefits that are envisaged to derive from the attendant regional event in the coming months.
This is a matter that authorities in the Tourism industry fear could have serious implications for the tourism businesses.
A report of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), which the Council developed in partnership with their research partner Oxford Economics, gives an illustration of the extent of the concern.
“In particular, consideration should be given to lifting, or at least easing restrictions on Asians,” read the report, adding that this category of travelers constitutes one of the fastest growing Tourism markets globally. Further mention was made of the fact that Chinese and Indian outbound travel is forecast to expand very rapidly over the coming decade.
Against the backdrop of this imminent influx, and to avoid unnecessary delays and complaints by visitors, the report proposed that they be permitted to effect payments for the purchase of visas, in foreign currency and Credit cards, which they are currently not allowed to use.
Myra Sekgororoane, Chief Executive Officer of the Botswana Tourism Board (BTB) shared the view that the lifting of these restrictions would go a long way towards ensuring that the Travel and Tourism industry reaches its maximum potential.
She said, “However, we are optimistic that ongoing consultations and negotiations between Government and other relevant stakeholders on this matter will bear fruit.”
The Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs (MLHA), which is the custodian of visas, immigration and travel issues, pointed out that it has no plans to lift travel restrictions for countries that do not have any Visa Abolition Agreements with Botswana , in the same way that Botswana citizens need to produce visas in order to enter such countries.
Lebogang Bok, Principal Public Relations Officer, at MLHA said, “However, on the issue of developing a single visa for the region or UNI VISA, as they call it, I can confirm that indeed negotiations are ongoing, although the Department of Tourism in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism would be best placed to delve into the details of the discussions, since they are the coordinating sector in SADC.”
To address the challenge faced by tourists in using foreign currency and credit cards when purchasing travel visas or related costs, Bok indicated that through the Visa Computerization System of the MLHA which is ongoing, Point of Sales (POS) facilities will be installed so that they could be able to pay through credit cards.
The WTTC report acknowledged that although due consideration for national security requirements dictate that specific controls be put in place, the lack of arrangements enabling travel to Botswana to be as easy as possible “would inevitably limit the spin-off benefits that the country could receive from regional events such as the 2010 FIFA World Cup.”
Concern has been expressed that the issue of restrictions is equally problematic when it comes to potential investors in the area of Travel and Tourism.
In this context, the WTTC/Oxford Economics report queried the fact that, Botswana’s Travel and Tourism institutional structure is currently too complex and bureaucratic, thus it was recommended that BTB become a ‘one-stop shop’ for tourism investors – a similar role to the one undertaken by the Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority (BEDIA) for purposes of other industries.
“Up to 15 different government organizations have to be requested at the present time to initiate and operate a campsite or lodge, and this process needs to be simplified if smaller, local investors are to be encouraged,” posited the report, which followed the commissioning of the consultancy by BTB with a view to establishing the prospects and limitations in expanding the horizons for the Travel and Tourism industry in Botswana.
Having one point of contact, with experience in supporting the establishment of new businesses in a particular area is widely regarded as the most efficient way of soothing the path for investors, both domestic and foreign.
One argument put forward is that such an arrangement would allow BTB to have an input into proposed developments at the earliest possible stage and give BTB first hand experience of the challenges such businesses face, thus a timely feedback to Government in relation to the policy implications of the content of the feedback.