The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has revealed that it has received about 72 applications for eight tourism sites for lodges in the park amid concerns that it is bursting at the seams.
Speaking during a media tour in the park, Chobe National Park (CNP) manager Mbututu Mbututu also revealed that at least 220 citizen-owned companies conducted a site visit in the park following a flight of expression of interest in February this year.
He said the sites were marked to give potential investors an opportunity to appreciate the environment.
“In terms of size, the plots will be three hectors, on average the space between them will be 2.5 kilometres,” said Mbututu.
He added: “We have invited all Batswana who have interest in venturing in this industry. At least 220 came here for a tour of the sites and only 72 have submitted applications for these sites and we are at an evaluation stage now,” he said.
Giving an overview during the tour of the sites, Minister responsible for tourism Philda Kereng defended the government’s decision to go ahead with the planned lodges in the park saying this was not supposed to have been an issue in the first place.
Kereng said the government has come up with what she called a decongestion strategy to address issues of ecological and environmental pressure on the environment. The minister did not elaborate what this strategy entails.
“The idea of these lodges is aimed at creating tourism opportunities for Batswana so that they can also benefit from the lucrative tourism industry in a balanced manner; without degrading the environment,” she said.
Kereng further indicated that the zoning that was conducted along the river front showed that in total at least 11 lodges are suitable to be built “here but for now we will start with 8 lodges and then maybe increase as times goes on.”
She said five kilometres from where the new lodges would be situated is the area that is congested and that is only where the only game lodge in the park is situated.
“Regarding the issue of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), it will be conducted to safeguard the environment and also ensure that the design and concept of the planned facilities here do not have adverse impact on the area,” she said.
She said when the zones were determined, her ministry also considered lucrative areas also taking into consideration that they were not ecological sensitive.
“Batswana will be encouraged to also ensure that when they are allocated these sites, they have a responsibility to protect the environment,” she said. She said the other side of the river front had activities such as boat cruising and game drive, which resulted in heavy traffic of tourists and wild animals in that area.
“We intend to open up other routes because there is water on the other side of the river. Concentration will be on the river bank which is a strategic area where we intend to allocate these sites for Batswana,” she said.
For his part, Acting Director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) Botshabelo Othusitse dismissed claims by some youth that the bid would only benefit those with financial muscles and have been in the industry for some time as per some of the requirements of the expression of interest.
“That is a perception,” said when fielding a question from reporters. Othusitse also indicated that the eight selected bidders would be required to conduct an EIA instead of it being conducted before the sites are allocated. “We need to understand how EAI works, it may not say you can’t put a facility here but what sort of measures you need to put in place to avoid adverse impacts,” he said adding that “the general location may need not to change but just slight changes you may make without compromising the environment.”