Sunday, March 7, 2021

Tourism’s potential not fully explored

We welcome the appointment of Directors of the Botswana Tourism Organisatioon.

It took much longer than was necessary. And the new Board has a lot of catching up to do.

It had however been our view that the days when Permanent Secretaries would be appointed to chair parastatals that they supervise as part of their line ministerial mandate were gone past behind us.

We were thus shocked to learn that Neil Fitt, who is Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Wildlife had been made Chairman of the Board of Botswana Tourism Organisation.

It is however not our wish to make that the gist of this commentary.

Rather we want to wish those appointed to the Board of BTO, including Mr. Fitt all the best and remind them of the great responsibilities that now rest on their shoulders to turn Botswana’s tourism around.

It is also not our intention at this stage to highlight potential cases of conflict of interest that we had imagined would be clear especially to those with access to legal advice and indeed those read in law as is the case with some of the appointed Board Directors.
That too we wish to leave for another day.

At this stage out intention is to give everybody, the appointing authority included a benefit of doubt.

Our view has always been that Botswana’s tourism potential remains undervalued as a result of many factors that include high prices, under-investments and little effort to stimulate domestic tourism.

There is need for more infrastructural development just as there is need for product diversity.

On account of exorbitantly higher prices and poor marketing, fewer Batswana are travelling within their country to explore the scenic wonders that their country offers to the world.

We hope that the new Board of Directors will come up with imaginative ideas to provide strategic guidance to BTO to enhance domestic tourism.

There is a lot to learn from such countries like South Africa which is on an aggressive mode to make culture and heritage central pillars of their tourism offerings.

It obviously cannot be right to say that Botswana does not have a culture or heritage that the world would want to learn from.
Those tasked with marketing our tourism have a clear cut task to look at the opportunities that that for now remain untapped.
While still there it is our hope that BTO will not take much longer without getting a substantive Chief Executive.

This we say because of the importance of making plans and following them through, which often is almost impossible without a substantive CEO.

It really has never been clear to us why cabinet has spent so many years without appointing CEOs of some of the country’s key parastatals that have a bearing on the country’s economy.

We can take a leave from leading companies of the world where succession is part of leadership and strategic guidance provided by the board.

A successor is often announced even more than a year before the retirement or departure of the incumbent.
This is to allow seamless transition period while also providing an opportunity for the incoming executive to learn the ropes from the departing one.

Sadly BTO, like many other parastatals has been denied such a key component of transitional benefits in leadership changes.
On diversifying the products offerings, we observe with delight that there seems to be a slow shift away from traditional forms of fauna and flora tourism to also embrace cultural and heritage as key components of the whole suite. What work is happening at the Hills of Tsodilo, and also what BTO is doing in the Tswapong areas is highly commendable. More however still needs to be done.

Once again countries like South Africa have moved well ahead and we just have to look at the size of investments in their tourism sectors as a variable, especially marketing to appreciate how seriously they take their initiatives.

Last but not least, we call on the new Board of BTO to show leadership on how flagship events like the Toyota 1000 Desert race can be overhauled. The same should be the case with Khawa. The private sector can benefit a lot from these events were they shorn of fundamentalist like behavior which prohibits even the sale of alcohol.

Our view is that if BTO is to be involved in such flagship events ( and we do not think it is a good thing to involve BTO) it should be to provide leadership guidance while leaving organizational leg work to the private sector.

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