This past weekend a number of our people descended in the tiny sandy village of Khawa in the Kgalagadi district for the annual #Khawa Dunes Quad Bike challenge. The expectation, at the time of going to press, on Saturday morning was that even the number one citizen, a big fanatic of quad biking will be amongst multitudes that will be gracing the 2016 episode of this event.
The anticipation for this event, year after another reminds us of another event that used to be everyone’s favourate ÔÇô the 1000 KM Toyota Desert Race commonly known as Mantshwabisi.
All evidence based on attendance and the feedback from those who are still attending the 1000KM Toyota Desert Race, now held just outside mining town, Jwaneng points to a decline in popularity of what had become our country’s flagship race.
This should be a cause for concern, not just for the authorities but for all Batswana who had hoped that tourism would be used to grow the economy and help wean it from what has been a devastating reliance on minerals. One fact that should be repeatedly said is that tourism has significant potential for growth in this country.
Another fact, which is however unfortunate is that just like the country’s overall tourism strategy, the 1000 KM Totoya Desert Race has had no branding attached to it ever since it was started.
For those who are always in the look out, what international marketing efforts have been put in place by Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) to ensure that this flagship race, an equivalent of Dakar Challenge get wider audience, not just in Botswana but from atleast SADC?
One does not have to churn out statistics to prove that the once popular race is now attracting much fewer people than was the case, say, four or five years ago. And we should not pretend like we do not know the reasons behind this decline. This decline is a result of a failed leadership. Those entrusted to lead us in the sector of tourism have let us down. And we should not wait any longer to call on them to up their game.
The truth of the matter is that whilst the Botswana Tourism Organisation blindly believes that it is doing a good job of marketing Botswana’s tourism services, marketing of this country’s second revenue earner has been left to fate.
While we stop here and give BTO an opportunity to call us “negative”, its executive should be reminded of three areas that require urgent attention. One is the diversification of the product’s emphasis on wildlife; culture, for instance, is an option.
The second is enhancing the sector’s capacity to provide services. The third is reforming the management of the tourism sector to ensure that a greater proportion of the tourism revenue is retained in the country.
Although outdated, previous or rather latest data shows that only 10 percent of the tourism revenue is retained locally. This is partly because the bulk of Botswana’s tourist bookings are handled in South Africa, and partly because the sector’s supply chain is foreign-dominated
The foreign domination and ownership of tourism facilities has led to the repatriation of tourism revenue, domination of management positions by expatriates, lower salaries for citizen workers, and a general failure by tourism to significantly contribute to rural poverty alleviation in the Okavango region. Tourism as a result has a minimal economic impact on rural development mainly because it has weak linkages with the domestic economy, particularly agriculture. Because of its nature, tourism in the Okavango Delta cannot be described as being sustainable from a socio-economic perspective. In order to address problems of enclave tourism development and promote more inclusive and beneficial tourism development in the Okavango, there is need to adopt policies and strategies that will ensure that substantial amounts of tourism revenue are retained in the Okavango and Botswana. These strategies should also ensure that tourism development in the Okavango Delta has strong linkages with the rest of the economy in Botswana.
Those in the Board who are supposed to be giving strategic direction should be ashamed of themselves for presiding over the death of an industry that had so much potential.
The #Bottomline however is that BTO’s most celebrated achievement since their inception a few years ago has been putting up luxurious offices all over the country while doing absolutely nothing to raise the profile of tourism operators in this country. This could be maybe by linking them with prospective tourists and package holiday makers outside the country more especially within the SADC region. On that note we caution BTO to not let Khawa Dune Challenge turn into another 1000 KM Totoya Desert Race which is just history. The Khawa Dune Challenge, together with the Desert Race in its previous format could be a boon around which to our country’s overall tourism strategy.