If the civil servants strike continues, tour operators, especially small ones, will rue the day they ventured into the business.
Operators’ brief is to book accommodation, get visas and guarantee the safety of tourists as they come to the country. But at the moment, all is not guaranteed although analysts say Botswana’s international image has not been ‘completely’ destroyed by the strike.
Bigfoot Tours, a local tour operator is one of the many businesses in tourism that have acknowledged that the strike is affecting the business negatively and have lost some clients.
Amina Sebele, Sales and Marketing Executive of the tour company that takes tourists to Khutse and CKGR revealed that they recently had to cancel a two weeks activity for Chinese travelers because they could not get visas for them on time.
“When the strike started in April, we had lot of clients (international) who wanted to cancel their┬ábookings and were demanding refunds,” Sebele explained, adding that they had to communicate now and then with the immigration office to find out if there will be some officers on duty.
But, fortunately, the border posts have not closed and tour operators continued convincing clients that they will be able to cross to Botswana and should not cancel the bookings.
“Since most of our clients are international, we also assist with visa application (which is one of our services),” she said.
Because of the strike, Bigfoot was supposed to host this Chinese team, but lost out because they could not bring them from South Africa on time.
The company lost out despite having had two weeks accommodation booked.
Sebele said when they applied for visas, they were told that it might take long because there is shortage of staff, since some officers are on strike.
“The visa took long to be issued up until the days they (clients) were given to be in South Africa expired and they flew back to China. The visas were issued days after they were back in their country,” said Sebele.
Last week, a Maun based tour operator raised the same concerns.
Listed hotel group Cresta Marakanelo is also affected for both accommodation and conference services as it gets most of business from government.
“We have experienced some cancellations from South African operators and travel agents after media reports in that country reported on the strike,” Patrick Chivese, Head of Marketing & Sales at Cresta, stated.
“Most government bookings in our hotels have been cancelled and there is very little conferencing business by some government departments and local authorities i.e. land boards and councils,” Chiveze added.
Cresta group has about 724 beds in Botswana and operates Cresta Lodge, President Hotel, Botsalo Hotel, Bosele Hotel, Marang Gardens and Hotel, President Hotel, Riley’s Hotel, and Cresta Mowana Safari Lodge.
Wilderness Safaris, however, revealed it has not yet been hit by the impact of the strike like its peers in the market.
The Managing Director of Wilderness Safaris Botswana, HYPERLINK “http://www.backabuddy.co.za/woody” Grant Woodrow, sympathised with other operators by advising Botswana to make it easier for tourists to get visas like other countries where visas can be acquired at a point of entry.
As its market is Europe and U.S, HYPERLINK “http://www.backabuddy.co.za/woody” Woodrow said the strike has not had an impact on their business since 99 percent of their guests come by air to Botswana.
“There has not been any real impact. It is only on the supplies side (that we have seen the impact) as we get most of the supplies outside the country,” said Woodrow.
“Some countries, especially those from Asia are battling with the visas because you cannot get them at point of entry and they decide to go to other countries,” he added, sympathising with other tour operators.
Wilderness operates a number of high end lodges, including the popular Mombo and Chitabe in The Okavango Delta.
A professor of tourism at University of Botswana’s Okavango Research Institute (ORI) said the strike and its continuing publicity will have a negative impact on the travel market.
Professor Joseph Mbaiwa of the Okavango Research Institute said all the tourists want is a safe destination.
“For example, if you are planning to go to Cape Town and there is a strike there, you cannot go because you will have problems there,” said Mbaiwa.
He added that the strike will not only hurt the tourism industry alone as the supply chain is in trouble if the standoff continues.
Advising government and the union to resolve their differences he said: “Let people sit down and talk”.
Currently, the impasse between the two parties is made worse by the ‘big brother’ mentality where each party wants to emerge victorious.
“People must leave the meeting knowing that they have won. Not one winner,” Mbaiwa advised. “There must be a clear understanding”.