Coronavirus has dealt a deadly blow to Botswana’s tourism sector.
Getting the sector back to life will require imagination and fortitude.
Domestic tourism has to be at the center of all attempts to bring the sector back to life.
And reviving tourism has to be at the center of all of economic revival.
Those expecting a “bounce back” will with time find that they were too optimistic.
The return of the sector will be slow and painful.
Summer and the Christmas Holidays are crucial for Botswana’s tourism calendar.
Losing out on those would mean a whole year has been lost.
It would be foolhardy to expect European and American tourists to travel to Africa given the state of the pandemic ion their countries. Many countries are still to emerge from extreme lockdowns.
These lockdowns have made people economically fragile. And travelling across the world has dropped too far below the latter in terms of priority rankings.
And fear still suppresses travel.
The calendar year is fast moving into an area where if not salvaged it might mean that an entire year is lost.
This is because tourism requires planning, booking and confirmations.
Visits from overseas are certainly going to be near zero.
This is because Botswana remains out of bounds for travelers from outside.
There are still no commercial flights coming in in or out of the country.
And nobody wakes up one morning in California and jumps into a plane to the Okavango Delta. That requires onerous planning and coordination including by trip planners and coordinators.
The importance of tourism to the economy of Botswana cannot be overemphasized.
Tourism contributes handsomely to the4 GDP. And it also directly employs a significant number of people.
This is not to say there were no issues before the meltdown.
There is a need for structural re-organisation.
This will include ensuring that capital stays in Botswana to allow for further investments. And also ensuring that citizens become legitimate players in the sector.
Several months with no revenue will weaken the sector, but also government which is currently financing a wage relief for the sector and others in general.
Botswana Tourism Organisation, obviously assisted by government should move with speed to put in place an ambitious plan for the sector.
Campaigns by BTO especially for external tourism have to be more targeted.
Government has to give BTO a significant advertising budget. But BTO has to be smarter in how they expend the money, or there will be not much to show for it in the end.
Botswana is yet to get full results of its Visa upon arrival arrangement with China.
Where countries are open to it, Botswana Government should extend the arrangement to other countries.
We are moving into a situation where recovering lost revenue might become an impossible task.
But it is important to secure the future for the sector.
That would include ensuring that many of the businesses that were alive before covid-19 are able to come from it alive.
A failure to bring those businesses back to operational existence could prove catastrophic for Botswana – but more for tourism enclaves like Maun, Okavango, Kasane, Tuli-Block and Kgalagadi.
In the cities and major villages many businesses and households had accessed credit to develop Bed and Breakfast small lodges.
Even if they were to open today many of these businesses have to contend with Covid-19 protocols like social distancing which for small businesses are an operational cost and also a handicap.