Tuesday, January 18, 2022

We welcome the listing of Okavango Delta, but where are the economic linkages?

We were recently reminded of a sad reality about one of the key sectors in our economy ÔÇô the tourism sector. It is indeed worrisome that despite the tourism sector’s potential for growth and contribution to the domestic economy, our country is unable to retain atleast 50 percent of the revenue generated by this sector.

Available statistics do show that only 10 percent of the domestic tourism revenue is retained locally whilst the rest is claimed by foreign countries through their companies. We have been told that this is so because the bulk of Botswana’s tourist bookings are handled in South Africa and as far as the United States of America where most of these operators originate.

The sad and unfortunate reality is that our government has all along turned a blind eye on the fact that Botswana’s tourism sector supply chain is foreign-dominated, a set up which certainly contributes to the loss of revenue. Imagine how much tax the government could be making out of these hundreds of tourism transactions. Unless someone at the government enclave could stand up and say policy makers were not aware of this obvious reality.

That tourism has significant potential for growth is a well known fact that no one would want to repeat. The recent listing of the Okavango Delta amongst UNESCO’s heritage sites is one such reminder of the great monetary value that our tourism sector has. The listing however raised many questions that maybe the minister responsible for tourism, Tshekedi Khama could have answered had Sunday Standard been invited to a recent press briefing held by the tourism ministry. The first thing that one would have wanted to know is how the listing of our delta would affect the inhabitants of the Okavango district particularly those engaged in different natural resources related activities.

In as much as we know that the country retains only 10 percent of the tourism sector revenue, it would also be interesting to know how much gross output of the Okavango Delta, in terms of direct value, is added to the gross national product. There is no doubt that Tshekedi Khama should have shared how much of the gross income accrues to communities in Okavango through the CBRM as well as the nation at large. The key question though remains, who should and who is benefitting more from our tourist sites? Should it be communities and by extension the nation or foreign companies that are operating in such areas?

A known fact that the government continually turns a blind eye on is the fact that foreign domination and ownership of tourism facilities has led to the repatriation of tourism revenue, domination of management positions by expatriates, lower salaries for citizen workers. This has at the same time, even though sole beneficiaries would want to deny it, led to a general failure by tourism to significantly contribute to rural poverty alleviation in both Okavango and Ngamiland districts, where a vast number of tourist’s sites are found. Both Okavango and Ngamiland records high rates of poverty year in year out. The two districts remind one of the dusty Boteti region where diamonds are mined.

One then wonders if it would be wrong to conclude that the tourism sector has a minimal economic impact on rural development of Okavango and Ngamiland inhabitants mainly because of its weak linkages with their lives and by extension to the domestic economy. Still on the listing of Okavango, already Batswana would be able to afford to travel to the luxurious Okavango Delta are worried whether owners of the accommodation resorts would not radically hike prices of the resorts. Who would stop them anyway?

According to a report prepared by the AFP, Botswana hotels particularly in the Okavango Delta area are ranked among the Top 10 most expensive hotels in the world based on cost per couple for a single night’s accommodation in US Dollars. Tshekedi Khama, Neil Fitt and Sally Smith who are probably the country’s key decision makers in this sector must be aware that as the world diversifies in terms of destinations, tourism is one of the most viable and sustainable options to reduce poverty in the most deprived areas such as Okavango and Ngamiland. Although dominated by Batswana of the ‘’white’ origin, leaders of the tourism sector should consider addressing problems in this sector with much emphasis on enclave tourism development. It is our belief that such measures would at the same time promote more inclusive and beneficial tourism development for the communities around the delta as well as other communities surrounding highly valued tourists sites.

There is no need to remind both government and the BTO board of what is going in Maun, Kasane and all other lucrative tourism centres. The Bottom-line though is that a reform of management of the tourism sector to ensure that a greater proportion of the tourism revenue is retained in the country is long overdue and essential. The government through BTO should ensure that strategies are in place to make sure that tourism development in our country has linkages with the rest of the domestic economy. There is no doubt that if properly managed, areas such as the Okavango Delta will continue being a valuable instrument for progress, job creation, infrastructure development and economic growth.

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