Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Tourism sector could be first victim of new Covid 19 variant

The recent detected new Covid-19 variant in the country has sparked fears of stunted growth in the tourism sector.

The sector which has been badly affected for the past 18 months due to an imposed State of Public Emergency (SOE) has been trying to recover.

Government has indicated that so far only 4 cases of the new variant were reported by local scientists.

On the other hand, United Kingdom (UK) has since suspended flights from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.

It has also been reported that non-UK and Irish residents have been banned from entering England if they have been in the six countries in the past 10 days.

Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) Chief Executive Officer Lily Rakorong told this publication that the detection of the variant in the country has resulted in the cancellation of many bookings.

Rakorong said although the emergency of the variant will destabilize the market, there is need to for countries to engage in order to prevent further damage.

“Our view is that this is destabilizing the market and we cannot keep on going back and forth because the confidence level in the market will go down, so we need see to how best we can manage it.”

“We believe that government is also keeping a close eye on the development and what is important is engagement at government level,” said Rakorong.

Rakorong further advised that scientists should also meet and come up with a conclusion in terms of what is happening and a way forward.

“We will all be better informed to make decisions based on the scientific advice,” added Rakorong.

She also said currently the operators are jittery as they have been working tirelessly to revive the sector after a difficult period.

“Some people already are cancelling their bookings trying to get back home and we have some operators that have informed us that some of their clients are already cutting their trips short so that they do not get restricted in Botswana as no one knows exactly what is going on,”

“The management of this is very important and inclusive of communication about the development of what is happening,” added Rakorong.

She indicated that if this is not well managed, it will regress the efforts made in the last few months, stating that they were starting to see a silver lining.

The tourism industry is one of the top sectors of the economy which has suffered the devastating effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Recently HATAB revealed that it was engaging a series of foreign aviation operators to introduce direct flights from Europe to the Okavango delta in an effort to boost the tourism sector.

HATAB Public Affairs and Communications Manager Tebogo Ramakgathi stated that they have been in discussions looking into flights that could fly directly into the country.

“We believe that this will be cheaper for tourists and it will also save time looking at the fact that most tourists normally have to fly to South Africa first before flying to Maun,” said Ramakgathi.

She further said so far, Aviation Company named Fly Okavango has shown interest, with discussions at an advanced stage to have those flying tourists directly from Europe to Maun.

“As you know, the tourism sector has been hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions, it has been difficult for a lot of tour operators to generate revenue and we are hopeful that once we have a deal in place to have aviation operators flying directly into the country, it will bring about positive impact,” added Ramakgathi.

We have been informed that the company wants to start operating either before end of this year or early next year.

She further said since last year the number of tourists have gone down, stating that the introduction of direct flights will likely boost the sector once again.

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