The Chief Executive Officer of the Botswana Tourism Board, Myra Sekgorwane, maintains that Botswana’s tourism industry has remained elastic despite the negative and seemingly unabating impact of the unfolding global recession on world economies.
Sekgororwane said Botswana has not been severely affected to the traditionally long booking lead time.
That notwithstanding, there is an estimated 19% decline in bookings compared to the previous year and some facilities are said to have recorded cancellations even though they are seen as relatively insignificant.
Sekgororwane posits that she found comfort in the recognition that the investment appetite has not at all declined, but decided the best thing to do in the circumstances is to capitalize on the opportunities available at the moment.
However, it is my considered view that in times such as these the important thing is to have an assertive and visionary team to take the industry through, said the exuberant CEO.
She pointed out that seeing beyond the storm would be the ideal trait to distinguish the right leadership from the rest. Although she shies away from discussing her past achievement, she appears better placed to steer the ship.
To elaborate on her argument she made a point to the effect that before the crisis became pronounced, BTB had already embarked on international campaigns to sell the country to the outside world.
Part of the campaign included securing advertising slots in renowned world media, broadcasting and print, such as British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Panorama Magazine, National Geographic and Studio 53 to advertise the benefits of traveling to Botswana as well as investing in the Tourism sector.
Another initiative involved participating as widely as possible in international travel shows where BTB could influence potential tourists and investors to consider Botswana first in their priorities.
Some of the fairs BTB participate in as an integral component of their marketing strategy, includes International Tourism Bourse (ITB) in Berlin , Germany, which takes place every March, the Tourism Indaba, in Durban , South Africa as well as at the Japanese Association of Travel Agents (JATA). World Travel Market (WTM) of London is another avenue at the BTB’s disposal for marketing.
All of these initiatives, in spite of the fact that BTB is not selling but facilitating business, involve the use of lots of money despite the sometime uncertain outcome.
“But,” she said, “when things seemed to get worse the board had to consider whether to withdraw from the international campaign on account of the marketing financial implications or to maintain the momentum in spite of the costs.”
Having grown up in a male dominated family where she said she learnt to assert herself in the midst of a predominantly male infested environment and yet still made an effective team member, this European and American-educated tourism expert, stated that her early experience was a rather worthy resource which helped her to appreciate that even at this particular turn in the crisis teamwork is imperative.
“Thus we sat down and re-strategized whence a conclusion reached that we can’t afford to lose on what we have already started,” said the Captain of Tourism.
Looking abroad, it emerged that some European countries such as the United Kingdom, had decided as one of the ways of cutting down on luxury spending to advised their people to stay home being as early January this year when the recession was formally pronounced.
In the same vein, realizing that this amounted to cutting down on the very fountain that nurtured Botswana’s industry (high currency tourists), Sekgororwane intimated that BTB could positively borrow from that same strategy and encourage Batswana to frequent holiday resorts and refreshment.
Again, given that the existing market locally and regionally was potentially sufficient to sustain the industry for a considerable time; BTB submitted that they decided to keep the international campaign afloat for future dividends, whilst directing available resources to diversifying “the Tourism Product”.
Meanwhile, a decision was taken to place adverts on regional televisions starting in April next month. It is also expected that bill boards start fighting in South Africa in April as well. In addition, advertising will be done on a continuous basis on local and regional radio stations.
According to Sekgororwane, the local market remains largely unexplored mainly because of a wrongly conceived notion that tourism necessarily refers only to wildlife.
In this regard, it has been resolved that government and other stakeholders should heighten efforts at raising awareness wide across the country to unveil the yet unknown potentialities that this country has in terms of diversifying tourism.
For example, there have been indications that some people do travel from their places for traditional activities such Choirs, traditional music and dance as well as visiting cultural and heritage sites. “These can be very profitable components of our packaging,” highlighted Sekgororwane who exhibited confidence in her vision throughout the interview.
But since this involves a range of other authorities than just the BTB, Sekgororwane stated that it is one of the challenges she has to forego. That means bringing everybody on board, with a shared vision otherwise Tourism as currently viewed will have no future, she emphasized.
A suggestion is made to the effect that some of these can be turned into calendar activities, for which people, locally and from abroad, may like to travel to in the process enhancing the economic value of such activities.
The energetic CEO, who was reluctant to allow her own personal accomplishments to be used as a measure of the chances of success for her strategy, told the Sunday Standard that her exposure to the tourism industry dated back many years to the 90s after she trained in Ireland and worked in Switzerland and the UK.