Sunday, May 26, 2024

Botswana’s 2000-2018 tourist arrivals among SADC’s lowest

Botswana’s excellent husbandry of its wildlife resources, peace and weather have not been adequate enough to bring in as many tourists as all but three other SADC countries.

“With the exception of Botswana, Eswatini, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe, all remaining countries have recorded a remarkable increase in tourist arrivals from 2000 to 2018,” says the Southern Africa Economic Outlook 2023 report from the African Development Bank.

As regards wildlife tourism, the Bank says that across Southern Africa, “wildlife tourism is an important component of travel and tourism revenue. Protected areas, where most wildlife tourism takes place, have developed rapidly over the past few decades in response to burgeoning demand from tourism.”

The odd thing with regard to the Bank’s description is that with the possible exception of South Africa, Botswana is unparalleled in terms of its husbandry of wild animals – so much so that some local communities in wildlife areas strongly believe that the government cares more about wild animals than it does about them. The country has also developed its protected areas in a bid to attract tourists to them. However, that has not been good enough.

In one respect, Botswana’s lacklustre performance could be due to the fact that it doesn’t exercise real control over its most lucrative tourist asset – the Okavango Delta which is almost wholly owned by white non-citizens. With as many short-stay guests as pass through its gates a day, a citizen-owned lodge makes good money but comes nowhere near the amount of money that a luxury tourist operation in the Delta makes from a single guest. More often than not, Delta guests are Hollywood A-listers and European royalty. Famed United States TV host, Oprah Winfrey, has been spotted at the Maun International Airport returning from the Delta; Prince Harry of England is a regular basis; and former Spanish king, Juan Carlos, broke his leg there while hunting lions.

However, a lot of money from the Delta ends up in foreign lands. In 2016, parliament was told that when a holiday is booked through foreign operators or agents, about 30 to 40 per cent of revenue remains in the source country as fees for wholesalers/tour operators/travel agents/travel insurance and long haul flights while the remaining 60 to 70 per cent of revenue is remitted to Botswana. On the other hand, the African Natural Resources Centre, which is part of the African Development Bank, has stated that leakages of foreign revenues from tourism amount to over 70 percent. The latter confirms the findings of a Botswana Institute of Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) study on tourism leakages. BIDPA said that while foreign earnings from tourism were “substantial”, the leakages were also very high.

The lease agreement which governs commercial use of this asset, whose custodian is the Tawana Land Board, has also been crafted in such manner as to shut out a particular class of citizens – indigenous ones. It contains a right-of-first-refusal clause – right of refusal being a legal principle in terms of which a seller must give a party an opportunity to match a price at which a third party agrees to buy a specified asset on the same terms offered to the third party. When the lease for a concession area ends, all bidders, including the sitting tenant, compete in an open tender and upon evaluation, the latter is given the opportunity to match the overall highest bidder’s proposal. In the event the sitting tenant has to vacate a site, s/he has to be fully compensated for a site that would have been developed with huge sums of money over a period of time. Practically all operators are western and even among themselves, it is extremely difficult to buy back concession areas from the multi-millionaires who do roaring trade in the Delta.

Interestingly, it is this tourist asset within what a London-based pressure group (Survival International) has described a white ethno-state, that consumes the bulk of all marketing resources. President Mokgweetsi Masisi marketed it to an international audience when he spoke at a Dubai trade fair last year. In fairness to the president, everybody else (from the Botswana Tourism Organisation to all government ministries and governments to the private sector) markets this asset at the expense of all other tourist assets. The latter include private media.

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