Sunday, December 5, 2021

Will govt please wake up to HATAB’s catalogue of issues?

The annual conference of the Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) is scheduled to take place in the tourism town of Kasane this coming week.

The objective of the conference is to engage different stakeholders to discuss pertinent issues in the tourism sector and come up with resolutions and timelines, so we have been told. The conference amongst others targets the government as the major stakeholder – in policy and regulatory framework.

We ought to say that for a cross-cutting sector like tourism, it is indeed vital to constantly engage different stakeholders to discuss available opportunities and challenges that hinder progress, performance, and its growth. We therefore salute HATAB for constantly ensuring that gatherings like this take place year after another.

However, this year’s edition of the conference, just like others, comes at a time when the tourism industry is facing quite a number of frustrations. We shall term such frustrations as ‘catalogue of issues’. This catalogue of issues entails quite a number of business impediments amongst others as well as operating under an outdated policy ÔÇô as old as a 27 year old. The sector’s master plan was also last reviewed some 17 years ago.

We have been told that some years ago that HATAB compiled and submitted a report to the government on impediments to business in the tourism sector, among them bureaucratic red tape imposed on the industry by various government agencies such as transport, Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs and Civil Aviation, to name a few. To date very little has been done to get rid of these impediments. Actually it seems things are getting tough in this sector.

Amongst other things, the chairman of HATAB Dr Thapelo Matsheka has in the past raised concerns about the level of secrecy in the sector.

At the time, Matsheka warned that if left unattended the issue of high unpredictability and lack of transparency will dent investor confidence. To demonstrate his case, Matsheka cited establishment of a land bank in the tourism sector as an example, for which Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) was tasked in 2008. To date, not much information has been shared with the citizens of this country in relation to “land bank”.

Now this, amongst others, explains why we have always held the view that our country’s tourism potential is undervalued. The outdated policy and master plan are complementing other factors such as high prices, under-investments as well as little effort that is made to stimulate domestic tourism.

In this sector, just like others, we tend to have chosen to remain a ‘talk more’, ‘act less’ nation. This is so because apart from operating with old fashioned documents, in most cases half of recommendations made at this scheduled conferences are hardly implemented thus hindering the potential growth.

One of the notably things in this sector is that whilst the Botswana Tourism Organisation is doing a good job of marketing Botswana’s tourism services in the global media, three other areas require urgent attention. One is the diversification of the product’s emphasis on wildlife; culture, for instance, is an option. The second is enhancing the sector’s capacity to provide services. The third is reforming the management of the tourism sector to ensure that a greater proportion of the tourism revenue is retained in the country.

Our old song, ‘the foreign domination and ownership of tourism facilities which lead to the repatriation of tourism revenue, domination of management positions by expatriates, lower salaries for citizen workers, and a general failure by tourism to significantly contribute to rural poverty alleviation’ should come to an end.

At the same time, in order to address problems of enclave tourism development and promote more inclusive and beneficial tourism development in areas such as Chobe, Ngamiland and Okavango, there is need to adopt policies and strategies that will ensure that substantial amounts of tourism revenue are retained in such areas and by extension in Botswana.

It is quite clear that a key limitation to the future growth of Botswana’s tourism industry is also the under developed transport network. At present, both inbound and outbound travel is primarily from and to Botswana’s nearby neighbours including regional powerhouse South Africa and Namibia. Travel between these countries is primarily by road, where crumbling infrastructure means transit times are extended and the safety record is poor.

With all these in mind, HATAB should not stop pushing some of these urgent matters so as to ensure that Botswana tourism receives the attention of government and other stakeholders that it needs.

Although it remains slow to act on a number of urgent matters, through the help of HATAB we believe that the government will finally come to the party and celebrate the fact that the tourism as a sector has immense potential to channel economic growth.

The #Bottom-line is that in order to achieve long term sustainability, the tourism sector should be aligned to National Economic Strategies and also national aspirations for more local value addition and more visible citizen participation

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