Saturday, November 28, 2020

Botswana needs a rethink of its high value, low volumes tourism model

For Botswana, adopting the policy of high value, low volumes tourism was deliberate. It was predicated on preserving the pristine lands associated with tourism in Botswana, especially the Okavango. It was also made aimed at guaranteeing that only the wealthiest tourists, especially from Western Europe and the United States and now more recently, those from China and Japan could come here. That model was good when it lasted. The dollars kept coming. And there was little disturbance of Save for the elite, Botswana tourists were explicitly left out of the equation.

Now the coronavirus has changed all that and rendered the model impotent. Lockdowns, and a ban on international travel have meant that tourism has this year ground to zero. Even after lockdowns were lifted and people could start movements eternally, there was still no activity on tourism especially Batswana had come to accept that some destinations in their country were not only out of bounds, but were also not for them. Even as hotels, lodges and tour guides reduced their prices to ridiculously low levels, in frantic efforts to lure potential domestic tourism. It is astonishing to see a government policy that deliberately but subtly excludes its own people. Yet this is one. There was something particularly nasty and even wicked about pricing tourism out of the reach of a majority of citizens.

Let’s face it, there was also underlying racism that provided impetus and also motivation to exclude citizens. Most of the tourism operations in the Chobe and Okavango enclaves are owned by white people. Even one-time fervent promises by the current administration to put more indigenous citizens into tourism seem to have fizzled away and is most unlikely to bear any fruits. Every country in the world prides itself with the strengths of domestic tourism. Botswana needs to rethink its current tourism policy. There is absolutely no basis to continue with it.

The country needs to come up with a broader policy structure that will stimulate domestic tourism.Covid-19 has only done one part of the deal, which has been to expose the deficiencies of the current policy. Now the government has to deal with the other part, which is replace it with a middle of the road alternative that takes care of both the domestic and international markets. Tourism, when there is no covid-19 has always remained one of Botswana’s biggest contributors to the GDP. Authorities will understandably be coy to fiddle with the sector, hoping as they do with other things that the sector will simply go back to where it was prior to coronavirus. The future of Botswana’s tourism is much more complex than we are ready to admit.

The sector faces a totally new reality, post covid-19.This is a reality that cannot be ignored – not by the sector and certainly not by Botswana government. Government should be prepared to pump in money into the sector .But Botswana Tourism sector also needs to look at the fact that money no longer falls through the cracks in this sector, but that it reaches Botswana.

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