By the end of December 2020 news headline had it that global vaccine roll out could boost the travel industry and spell the end of discounts for players such as hotels and lodges.
Fast forward to mid-2021, its becoming clearer that Botswana’s hospitality sector belongs to the list that still offer ‘deep discount’ to attract customers. The recovery is offs-sight, captains of the industry have said.
As for accommodation resorts such as lodges and hotels, more especially those located in the tourism town of Maun, many are on the brink of closure. The imminent closure is blamed on the government’s slow roll out of the Covid-19 vaccines. To date Botswana says she has fully vaccinated just over 105 000 of the targeted 1.6 million adult population. Many workers in the tourism sector – which is the country’s second biggest contributor to GDP are still waiting for their first jab.
Maun’s Mokoro lodge Manager – Kealeboga Morei indicated that although they had requested government through HATAB to at least be considered in the frontline to receive vaccination, it has been three months without response.
He said the business is struggling to keep up as it has been slow since last year.
“We had requested government to allow us to purchase our own vaccines but that did not materialize, we then proceeded to request to be included in the frontline but it has been three months without hearing from government”
“It is difficult for the business at the moment because we have tried everything possible but government decisions have pushed back our efforts” said Morei.
He further indicated that poor performance of the business has been compounded by government recent decision to cut costs by not allowing public employees to hold conferences and workshops in lodges and hotels.
“We relied on conferences but since last year, things have been difficult, we have even reduced accommodation prices, not because the new prices can help the business pay its own bills” said Morei.
For her part, Thamalakane river lodge manager Leana Ries pleaded with government to quicken vaccination for staff, saying that business has continued to decline due to fear among travelers.
She further said in order for the tourism sector to survive, government should introduce direct flights as tourists are now scared of going through countries such as South Africa and Namibia where Covid cases are terribly high.
“Government should work around introducing direct flights because it that does not happen, businesses will collapse and we will have nothing to pay staff and to survive” said Ries.
In March this year, the CEO of the Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB), Lily Rakorong, said engagements with government have commenced after expression of willingness by members to contribute for procurement of vaccines.
“We have submitted a proposal to government and I must tell you that mobilization has started on those willing to contribute towards vaccines. In fact, most of our members have shown interest,” said Rakorong.
She added that the thinking is that purchasing their own vaccines may help accelerate revival of the ailing sector that has lost millions of pula since the onset of the virus last year. “In terms of which vaccine, we are keen on, we are looking for the safest and we will be guided by experts because there are a lot of question marks around certain vaccines,” she said.
“The tourism sector has been hard hit. There is need to put together a recovery plan so that we can get back on our feet. We are not looking for an instant impact because we are looking at the year 2023 to have achieved full recovery in the sector.”
Rakorong noted that things have been particularly difficult for a sector that is heavily reliant on mobility. “It is also critical for the government to prioritise the sector in vaccination because we consider ourselves frontline workers,” she said. “You will also take into consideration that when people travel from their own countries coming into Botswana, we are the first to host them. You can understand why we consider ourselves an essential service,” she pointed out, adding that Singapore, Mauritius and Rwanda are among countries where people in the tourism sector are regarded as frontline workers and prioritised for vaccination.
The sector has been hit so hard that occupancies are currently sitting at 3 percent in Botswana. “We haven’t even started recovery,” Rakorong said. “We are far from it because vaccination has not started and borders are still closed in many countries. It is a challenge currently but we are hopeful that as time goes on, things will get back to normalcy. Vaccines are what many people are pinning their hopes on. If we could inoculate a good number of people, Botswana could be declared a safe place to travel to.”