KASANE – The tourism sector which was devastated by the restrictions imposed by government to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 has a chance to finally breathe again.
The Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) Chairperson, Joe Motse told the association’s recent annual conference held in Kasane, home to tourism industry, that the industry has been resilient despite the setback brought by the pandemic.
Motse said that the industry is slowly waking up, and that, “we believe that if we keep going in this trend, we’ll be back on our feet as soon as possible”.
Tourism Minister Philda Kereng, who delivered keynote address, stressed that while the tourism sector should rightly celebrate surviving the pandemic, going forward HATAB must strive to build something even better than what they had before Covid hit.
“There’s a need to expand products, be innovative and incorporate culture, sports and agro-tourism”.
The Covid 19 pandemic was particularly bad for the tourism sector with arrivals falling drastically. For close to two years there were no signs of recovery until November 2021, a few weeks after the government removed the State of Emergency (SOE). Letsogile Batsetswe of the Botswana National Productivity Centre (BNPC) said that the tourism sector’s total contribution to Botswana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was around 10 percent (2019) but went down to 5 percent in 2020. In terms of jobs, the sector’s total contribution to employment was around 8.4 percent of total employment prior to Covid pandemic but went down to 6.6 percent of total employment in 2020.
In a bid to save the tourism and other key sectors, the government has since approved Economic Response Plan which is targeted at addressing short-term working capital requirements for businesses.
The National Development Plan (NDP) which is the custodian of the funds told HATAB conference that it was allocated P600 million to lend out into Agriculture, Tourism and General Industry.
“Key objectives is to stabilise businesses that have faced COVID pandemic effects”, said NDB.
To date, NDB says it has disbursed P149 million to the tourism sector with more applications still under consideration.
Restrictions hurting the sector…
While Covid-19 appears to be in the rearview mirror as far as many Batswana are concerned, some recent restrictions by government have cast a heavy shadow on the tourism enterprises. The government’s measures to boost the agriculture sector which resulted in restriction of imports of some food items have had a severe impact on the availability of essential goods in many restaurants. At the Kasane conference, HATAB chairperson indicated that some eateries have had to remove or reduce their menu offerings due to the horticultural products import ban.
“It is frustrating to offer a customer a salad, only to have a tomato missing”, said Motse in passing.
Motse added that while the association supports the government’s goal to empower local farmers, there is need to have first run an incubation program for the local suppliers to build capacity.
Apart from hotels and restaurants, some consumers have also complained of shortages of vegetables with experts saying the restrictions had exposed the supply chain weaknesses between local producers and the major retailers.