Friday, December 4, 2020

Picking crumbs of the tourism industry

Rather than sitting at home and complaining about government failure to protect and support local businesses in the tourism industry against multinational corporations, Emmanuel Amos – a resident of Kasane – has devised a strategy targeting the low budget traveller/ tourist.

Through Impala tours – a small outfit owned by a Maun-based businessman operating on the banks of the Chobe River in Kasane, Amos has defied the widely held perception that the local tourism industry only benefits foreigners and foreign-owned multimillion pula companies/ consortia.

Their packages are tailor made for individuals, small groups from government departments, schools and corporate clients. Services include boat cruises, game drives, mokoro excursions (3 passengers ) into the Okavango delta, fishing excursions and mobile safaris, which cater for longer excursions into the delta. He recently told Sunday Standard that most customers arrive between April and November – the non-rainy season when animals converge on the Chobe River front and make for exceptionally spectacular viewing.

Customers are mainly white South Africans, Namibians and a negligible number of locals.

At the time, Impala Tours had a staff compliment of four people made up of one supervisor and office assistant to handle bookings and three freelance guides to operate the three boats.

For Goitsemodimo Tuelo (27) from Kazungula in Chobe, a skipper with Impala since 2007, the job “is quite challenging but I like what I do”. He holds a Professional Guide licence obtained in 2006 at the Botswana Wildlife Training Institute (Maun). He has also studied other subjects, including ecological concepts, current affairs and natural sciences – knowledge he uses to augment a combination of field skills.

Watching Tuelo manuevre the still waters of the Chobe River, it is clear that he knows its channels like the back of his hand, having previously worked for mobile safaris using dug-out canoes in Maun.
To the bemused tourists, Tuelo would churn out superlatives for groups of animals like a school of fish, herd of elephants, troop of baboons, journey of giraffes, dazzling of zebras, pride of lions and a pack of wild dogs. Other animals in the Chobe Game Reserve include hyenas, antelopes, cats, cheetahs and over 70 different fish species in the river.

He said their major challenge is very high competition from big operators, especially that tourists visiting the Chobe National Park from outside the country usually prefer to purchase travel packages, which include accommodation, meals and game drives. Small operators do not offer accommodation and meals.

Because they are a small outfit, they do not have a budget for marketing their business. However, they take advantage of invitations to events like the Tourism Indaba in South Africa or the Tourism Pitso locally and other meetings in the region. To expand their services, they have entered into an arrangement with tour operators in neighbouring countries, like Zambia, who share cross border business with them e.g. for excursions to Victoria Falls.

Major advantages for using the services of small operators include exclusivity and privacy and flexibility. Prices for packages are slightly lower than in big operators like lodges and hotels.

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