MAUN: The government, charged with laying out regulations and legislation that governs the tourism industry, is now grappling with the finalisation of a commission report on the Okavango Development plan, according to its Maun office.
The report is expected to examine sustainability of tourism aspects of development at the Okavango, Maun and Ngamiland in respect of economic viability, benefits to the regional communities and upkeep of the delta which is probably the leading international attraction in the region alongside ‘the big five’ wildlife assets.
The government tourism officer believes that the Delta has come of age and that the next stage that requires urgent attention is the development of its peripheries. That will require, in addition to the physical attraction of the Delta, planned and sustainable exploitation of the cultural resources of the communities in and around the region.
“We have found that a good number of tourists come in self-contained packages so that they drive or fly straight to the Delta, spending very little time in the neighbouring vicinity,” said the District Tourism officer, Lesedi Ntshekisang. “We need to develop a product that will induce tourists to spend in Maun and other areas around the Okavango Delta.”
Ntshekisang believes that diversification of the tourism product would require the further development of one the least developed aspects of the region’s assets, among them the cultural heritage.
Asked what implications this would have for the preservation for the traditional and folk culture of the peoples of Ngamiland. Ntshekisang said, “The environment is changing any way. What we have to ensure is that the change is properly planned and managed.”
She further observed that change ‘could be a blessing or a curse depending on how it is managed.’ Development of the cultural heritage, she said, could result in better and more effective ways of preservation that is also mindful of conservation of the environment.
Some of the social ills that could arise from mismanaged development of tourism are adoption of ‘culturally inappropriate dress and deviant behaviours such as prostitution and crime, she said.
Ntshekisang noted that there will also be the inevitable changes and developments that are fostered by the international phenomenon of globalisation. ‘That is a stand alone factor that can hardly be prevented all over the world,” she asserted.
“We have to cultivate a broader view of tourism away from the traditional attitude that views tourism in a manner that is limited only to recognition of the Delta and an elephant, lion, buffalo, hippopotamus and the rhino. Education and interpretation are central to diversification of the tourism product for sustainability and maximisation of spending.”
“For example,” she continued, “development of the cultural tourism could also help to do away with the notion that tourism is only meant for foreigners because local communities will be attracted to local song, dance, poetry and other activities with which they are more familiar.”
Asked about the development of the basketry industry in the region once famous for its basketry and other forms of weaving, the tourism officer said that there appears to be a decline in that activity partly because the practitioners might not have access to the financial structures that would help them to get some of the implements that are required for their work.
She, however, observed that there might also be a problem with the marketing of the finished products and, in addition, the women who are skilled in this craft may also not be able to produce enough for the market. “You may find that it takes quiet a while to produce a single basket. And it also takes a while to find the materials that will be required to make it. As a result, the returns on the investment in labour and marketing may be very low.”