Tuesday, December 7, 2021

I was glad to see BTO at #MeetingsAfrica, I hope…

There is no doubt that our country is endowed with almost everything that tourists generally look for when choosing their holiday destination; attractive natural resources, limited crime rate, financial stability and many others. As a result, Botswana’s tourism industry has over the years grown to become a major player in the national economy and an important vehicle for economic diversification. The sector currently employs around 35 000 people.
Despite all these facts and positives, we are still of the view that our country’s tourism potential is not fully explored. But what could be the cause of these setbacks? Could it be because Permanent Secretaries are still appointed to chair parastatals that they supervise as part of their line ministerial mandate? (Well it is not the case now but it was before the last cabinet reshuffle). Or maybe it is because the ‘poor’ entity like many other parastatals in this country, the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) was denied a key component of transitional benefits in leadership changes. After the departure of Myra Sekgororoane it took a very long time before the organisation appointed a substantive Chief Executive.
At this point, we once again convey our heartfelt congratulations to Thabo Dithebe who was named substantive CEO in mid-February this year. We believe his appointment was long overdue as we have always wondered why government spent so many years dilly-dallying and not appointing him as substantive BTO CEO. This is one of the country’s key parastatals and everyone will agree that it has a bearing on the national economy. We hope that as he takes over the reins, Dithebe will right away aggressively market Botswana as a tourist destination of choice to local, regional and international markets.
But perhaps these mishaps are the reason why for a very long time we were confused as to whether BTO is a regulator or an implementer of our country’s overall tourism strategy. But as it stands, BTO is or should be responsible for regulating the tourism industry by performing duties of marketing, promoting tourism attractions as well as encouraging and facilitating travel.
This past week Sunday Standard attended the annual #MeetingsAfrica tourism trade show held in neighboring South Africa. We were delighted to see a stall branded, ‘Botswana Tourism’. By the way Sunday Standard was there as a guest of South African Tourism (SAT) ÔÇô a peer of BTO.
The trade show showcases Africa’s diverse offering of services and products. It is where African associations and industry professionals can partner to help transform the continent. It is partly co-hosted by SAT. It is our hope that BTO did not go down to South Africa only as an exhibitor but also on a benchmarking mission. Benchmarking is all about learning how to improve business activity, processes and management, which we feel BTO needs to do. Our corporate and civil leaders are well known for their habit of making frequent ‘benchmarking’ trips to other countries but never delivering tangible results. If there is any entity that we would support in its benchmarking endeavors, it is BTO. We recommend that BTO should benchmark with SAT mainly because South Africa, despite its alarming crime rate, has aggressively marketed culture and heritage as central pillars of its tourism offering. It is only through the leading role provided by BTO that Botswana’s tourism portfolio can be diversified from the conventional attractions of wildlife and natural beauty to other geographic locations beyond wildlife and the wilderness. Dithebe should thus collaborate with other key sectors and players such as Air Botswana in a bid to propose policy changes that will improve the tourism sector. This could include reform of the national airliner itself.
As it stands, our national carrier, Air Botswana, is currently besieged by a myriad of problems. Firstly, it was off the AITA arrangement for a very long time and it did not have a substantive general manager until late last year. Given South Africa’s upcoming immigration laws, Air Botswana could be one of the beneficiaries if it had direct routes to Europe. It is quite evident that the current arrangements, where Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg is the main link between Botswana and the rest of the world, makes Botswana’s tourism industry uncompetitive. At the same time, Botswana seems to be losing millions of Pula from tourists who book at Livingstone and only cross into Chobe National Park for game drives without spending much in the countryÔÇösimply because Zambia has built a state-of-the-art airport and hotels on its side.
In conclusion, the #Bottom-line poses this question: What does BTO intend to do to improve and grow activities such as Khawa Dune Challenge, Desert Race and Son of the Soil to be more appealing beyond the inner core of enthusiasts who have always been a part of the event? The attendants at these events should include international tourists, shouldn’t they?

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