At a time when there are questions on the rationale behind the government strategy on high-value, low-volume approach to tourism, especially in the protected areas like the Okavango Delta, tour operators and tourists have argued for the latter as it protects the environment.
A leading player in the industry, Wilderness Safaris, and a number of tourists argue that if the country follows other destinations like Kenya, which has opposite strategies, there will be no future for the industry.
Sally Anne of Wilderness Safaris, a conservation organisation operating a number of camps in the delta, told Sunday Standard Botswana has been perceived as an expensive destination and revealed they use ‘high-value’ to dispel that argument.
“It is the value of the experience and not the cost,” she said.
Critics of the strategy say operators put profits first and thus locking out a number of domestic tourists in the country as tour operators normally target the upper end of the market, including the rich from the US.
However, government has in the past argued that the policy is based on the overriding factor to protect the environment.
“Obviously, I will not go to a country that does not protect the environment,” said one American tourist at Wilderness Mombo Premier camp.
Grant Woodrow, who heads Wilderness Safaris in Botswana, explained at an earlier briefing that the environment can not sustain high volumes as it is fragile.
Woodrow acknowledged the issue of access to the country’s pristine destinations as a contentious issue, but argued ‘the environment can not sustain high volumes’.
“Looking at the environment is our high priority. It gives us competitive advantage, but at a price,” explained Woodrow.
Surprisingly, he revealed that there is no resistance from their prices, which are usually quoted in the US dollar.
Prices are normally more than US$ 500 a night for top resorts in the addresses around the Okavango Delta and other pristine destinations around the country.
Although high-volume destinations like Kenya attract the much needed forex to the country and thus boosting the GDP numbers, the results have been devastation, especially during the past political unrest.
Woodrow said Kenyans have in the past come to the country for benchmarking after the riots, but said the problem is that once you are in, it is always difficult to come out.
“These areas will become fewer and fewer,” he said, referring to the pristine destinations around the world.
Despite these arguments on pricing, operators normally reserve prices commonly referred to as ‘citizen rates’ and the industry believe they are cheaper than going to destinations outside the country like the popular Madikwe in South Africa.
Woodrow said there is major fight to visit Africa and stated as tour operators, they strive to see how to bring tourists to Botswana beating other destinations.
“You should understand that there is a lot of competition there; there are other amazing destinations in Southern Africa like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa,” he said.
Wilderness Safaris is a conservation organisation that operates in a number of camp sites in Moremi, the delta and one in CKGR.
Its flagship Mombo and Little Mombo were voted the Number 1 Resort in Africa in the 2009 Cond├® Nast Traveler (USA) Readers’ Choice Awards.
It has operations in Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Seychelles.
Every year, the company takes 100 kids to its camps and treat them like tourists with some of the children coming from the employees of the company.
Already, 1000 kids, of age range of 10-14 years, have been hosted by Wilderness.