The Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) has engaged a series of foreign aviation operators to introduce direct flights from Europe to the Okavango delta in an effort to boost the tourism sector.
HATAB Public Affairs and Communications Manager Tebogo Ramakgathi told Sunday Standard Publication that they have been in discussions looking into flights that could fly directly into the country.
“We believe that this will be cheaper for tourists and it will also save time looking at the fact that most tourists normally have to fly to South Africa first before flying to Maun,” said Ramakgathi.
She further said so far, Aviation Company named Fly Okavango has shown interest, with discussions at an advanced stage to have those flying tourists directly from Europe to Maun.
“As you know, the tourism sector has been hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions, it has been difficult for a lot of tour operators to generate revenue and we are hopeful that once we have a deal in place to have aviation operators flying directly into the country, it will bring about positive impact,” added Ramakgathi.
We have been informed that the company wants to start operating either before end of this year or early next year.
She further said since last year the number of tourists have gone down, stating that the introduction of direct flights will likely boost the sector once again.
“We are aware that government has been in discussions and they have been trying to sign bilateral agreement which by now have not reached conclusion,” said Ramakgathi.
On the other hand, Botswana Tourism Organization (BTO) Public Relations Manager, Moabi Keaikitse said discussions between stakeholders in on going, adding that once they have been finalized, the matter will be communicated.
“I am not at liberty to actually say anything right now but there are discussions on going at Ministerial level, so once it has been concluded, we will release a joint media statement with the company that has shown interest,” said Keaikitse.
For their part, The Minister of Transport and Communications, Thulaganyo Segokgo said it is not the first time they have been suggestions about direct flights from Europe to Maun, stating that to date no such direct scheduled flights have commenced.
“However, this time around Covid-19 has posed tremendous challenges to the entire economy, the airline industry being the most affected the entire world due to restricted movements,” added Segokgo.
He further stated that discussions to attract Airlines to operate and transit through Botswana happen at various levels and include several stakeholders such as CAAB, BTO and Airlines to attract tourism and business travel
He also said Covid-19 pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty saying that Botswana continues to seek avenues, partnerships and alliances as well as luring investors to identify Botswana as a potential tourism destination to ensure the survival of the aviation industry.
Companies in the tourism sector have continuously raised concerns that acquiring travel assurance has been difficult during state of emergency.
The tourism industry is one of the top sectors of the economy which has suffered the devastating effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Government has previously indicated that the tourism sector has suffered more compared as most businesses are without revenue.
Recently, Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism Philda Kereng said the tourism sector was bearing the brunt of COVID-19 as it depended entirely on tourists from outside the country.
She said although her ministry was not yet ready to release figures of losses, the sector was seriously affected by the suspension of air travel worldwide, indicating that the sector worldwide had so far lost around US$50 billion.
She indicated that government was committed to seeing to it that the sector was assisted during the lockdown and post lockdown as it was the second highest income earner for the country.
This year, HATAB approached government with an offer to help with the vaccine roll-out, a move which was widely seen to save the sector from collapse.
Hatab indicated that the industry committed to fund the costs of vaccinating its own staff and also to mobilizing all of its resources to the procurement, storage, distribution and administration of the vaccines. They also said subject to costs, it is believed that many businesses will also be willing to fund the costs of vaccines for some family members of staff to reduce risks of cross-infection and improve the welfare of the families concerned,” read the proposal submitted to the government.
HATAB also proposed that front-line tourism staff should be designated as essential workers and be given high priority in the allocation of vaccines.
It said Botswana had already lost a busy season for tourism due to COVID, and the next season commenced in May/June.