Friday, December 4, 2020

Take home lessons from the HATAB Conference

On Wednesday the Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) held its annual conference in Kasane – A key event in the tourism sector that the Minister of Tourism has ‘snubbed’ since 2012, atleast according to HATAB chairman Dr. Thapelo Matsheka.

Matsheka did not only speak on how as HATAB they value the Minister’s attendance but went on to state quite a number of frustrations that the sector is facing. The conference termed such as ‘catalogue of issues’. This catalogue of issues lists quite a number of business impediments which entails operating under a 25 year old policy while the master plan was also last reviewed some 15 years.

Now this explains why we have always had the view that our country’s tourism potential is undervalued. The outdated policy and master plan are complementing other factors such as high prices, under-investments as well as little effort that is made to stimulate domestic tourism. A take away lesson from Matsheka’s welcome speech is that we remain a ‘talk more’, ‘act less’ nation. This is so because apart from operating with old fashioned documents, in most cases half of such recommendations are hardly implemented thus hindering the potential growth.

However there is no single doubt that the tourism sector has significant potential to grow our economy. One of our take-home from the HATAB conference is that whilst the Botswana Tourism Organisation is doing a good job of marketing Botswana’s tourism services in the global media, three other areas require urgent attention. One is the diversification of the product’s emphasis on wildlife; culture, for instance, is an option. The second is enhancing the sector’s capacity to provide services. The third is reforming the management of the tourism sector to ensure that a greater proportion of the tourism revenue is retained in the country.

Our old song, ‘the foreign domination and ownership of tourism facilities which lead to the repatriation of tourism revenue, domination of management positions by expatriates, lower salaries for citizen workers, and a general failure by tourism to significantly contribute to rural poverty alleviation’ should come to an end.

In order to address problems of enclave tourism development and promote more inclusive and beneficial tourism development in areas such as Chobe, Ngamiland and Okavango, there is need to adopt policies and strategies that will ensure that substantial amounts of tourism revenue are retained in such areas and by extension in Botswana.

It is quite clear that a key limitation to the future growth of Botswana’s tourism industry is also the under developed transport network. At present, both inbound and outbound travel is primarily from and to Botswana’s nearby neighbours including regional powerhouse South Africa and Namibia. Travel between these countries is primarily by road, where crumbling infrastructure means transit times are extended and the safety record is poor. Air Botswana General Manager Ben Dahwa who was the guest speaker spoke at length about the need for collaboration by key players in the sectors.

HATAB stands out to be the most appropriate collaboration. What they need now is to pressurise the government to ensure that as part of their Social Corporate Responsibility (CSI) the potential of the tourism industry to impact positively and directly on the lives of ordinary citizens in Botswana is realised. This they should do bearing in mind the extent to which participation of locals in the tourism business can has become a subject of scrutiny. HATAB should not stop pushing the urgent matters so as to ensure that Botswana tourism receives the attention of government and other stakeholders that it needs. Although it remains slow to act on a number of urgent matters, through the help of HATAB we believe that the government will finally come to the party and celebrate the fact that the tourism as a sector has immense potential to channel economic growth.

The #Bottom-line though is that in order to achieve long term sustainability, the tourism sector should be aligned to National Economic Strategies and also national aspirations for more local value addition and more visible citizen participation.

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