Myra Sekgororoane, the Chief Executive Officer of the Botswana Tourism BoardÔÇö is battling with her thoughts and the new world economic reality, which has seen the mineral sector’s contribution being heavily affected by the global down-turn.
In her thoughts, there are some painful sacrifices and bold decisions that have to be made in order for the tourism industry to forge ahead. From her simple calculation at the back of an envelop, the country’s tourism sector needs volumes and high spending net of tourists in a bid to win the hard currencies.
“I have some positive feeling for opening up for South African Airways (SAA flights into Botswana) because we need some tourists. I do not mind who brings them, whether it is Air Botswana or someone else,” she said.
The national carrier, Air Botswana, is currently besieged with a number of problems; firstly, it’s out of the AITA arrangement, does not have a substantive CEO and, over the recent past years, has shaved a number of routes.
Sekgororoane is one of the people who take the swim or drown strategy on the air line industry saying that the move will, at the end of the day, prop up the tourism industry that has been in the shadows for a long time.
The South African airline, formed in 1934, is the latest entrant in the Botswana marketÔÇöconnecting the country to over 600 destinations around the world that it flies to. Its first Airbus 319-100 with the seating capacity of 125 personsÔÇöincluding business class — touched down a fortnight ago marking one of the liberalization moves that have been taking place behind the scenes.
The SAA move is expected to be followed by South African Express Airways’ debut in June to fly the Johannesburg-Maun route ÔÇô the country’s main gateway to the prestigious tourism sites.
The route has been the reserve of Air Botswana for a long time and is likely to attract price war from the skies before the entry of probably four more airlines for the domestic routes before the end of September.
“We have so many tourists’ attraction places in the country, including Tuli Block. Air Botswana has long discontinued flights along that route. I think someone else should be given that route,” she said.
The domestic routes sky wars are likely to diversify the tourism attraction of Botswana which, for a long time, has been rooted on the Okavango Delta than to less known places like Tuli Block.
“We have to embark on the geographical diversification of the product,” she said other moves will have to even look at the diversification of the product away from wildlife and wilderness.
Some of the measures will include the promotion of cultural events and heritage sites in a bid to maximize the benefits of the sector.
“We really have to drive the fact that tourism is not all about wildlife and wilderness. There are other things which are not all about wildlife,” she stressed.
That drive is expected to be coupled by Sekgororoane’s vision of looking hard into the local and regional markets at a time when the global economic down-turn has presented a lot of uncertainty.
“We have to look at our marketing strategy and see how we ride the storm. Firstly, we have to maintain the overseas market and, secondly, intensify our local and regional marketing strategies. In times like this so many developed countries are encouraging their people to spend their holidays at home.”
“This is because more often (air) transports normally accounts for about 50 people of long haul tourists’ expenses,” she said.
However, in a bid to keep the international market close, the tourism board has appointed some agencies in the developed countries to serve continental Europe through Germany, UK and Ireland from London and in the United States of America to serve the entire north America.
Further, she insisted that for the country’s tourism sector to be given the necessary fire-power, there is need to have some direct long haul flights in a bid to lure tourists from their countries of origin.
“We would like to have some long-haul direct links. If the infrastructure takes airbus, hopefully, we will have some direct long haul flights,” she said, pointing out that the current arrangements, where Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg is the main link between Botswana and the rest of the world, makes Botswana’s tourism industry uncompetitive.
The move, which will have some serious cost implications, is likely to result in some of the tourists avoiding the crime infested Oliver Tambo Airport and, at the same time, give Botswana leverage over Livingstone, Zambia, which is fast becoming a regional tourists’ hotspot.
Botswana is loosing millions of Pula from tourists who book at Livingstone and only crosses into Kasane for game drive without spending much in the countryÔÇöbecause Zambia has built a the state-of-the-art airport and hotels on its side. That has also made Air Botswana to be uncompetitive in the northern parts of the country’s market.
The radical developments come at a time when tourism, which has long been identified as an engine of growth, is likely to come under pressure because of the global economic down-turn.
Although business and high market still look resilient to the financial crisis that has affected the world, the low end part of the sectorÔÇömobile tourismÔÇöhas tumbled 19 percent year-on-year.
The high end of the market, whose bookings are normally settled between 12 and 18 months, has escaped the global financial turmoil.
Further, the tourism board has taken a rare plunge by burning cash on advertising on the BBC and, presently, are talking to CNN with a view of reaching a deal to flight adverts promoting Botswana tourism.
Though the move might be seen as nothing compared to what of South Africa, Mauritius and Namibia are doing in terms of promoting tourism in their countries, Sekgororwane said it is better than nothing, given the resources at hand.
“Just take the advertising budget for the northwest tourism board in South Africa, there is no way we can match them let alone the entire country. All what we have to do is do with what we have,” she said.