It will appear the Environment, Wildlife and Tourism minister Tshekedi Khama still has more questions to answer at the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises – this time on the envisaged Tourism Development Levy. The last time he appeared before the Moyo Guma-led Committee Tshekedi Khama washed his hands clean of decisions taken by the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) to splash P17m in opening new office in Dubai, and ordering the publishing of tourism related books by drawing from the Tourism Fund. Instead he blamed outgoing BTO CEO Thabo Dithebe for having advised that he took the measures. Though he confirmed to the committee that his ministry and BTO will pull out of the Dubai deal, he blamed ill advice from his team. Guma confirmed this week that he has asked the minister to appear before his committee to provide further insight on the Tourism Development Levy which could be rolled out soon. The levy is usually imposed to help raise funds to promote conservation and create some level of sustainability in the sector.
However for a country like Botswana which often struggles against major tourist destination centres to draw in tourists, the introduction of such levy is seen by some as going against the spirit of increasing its appeal to international tourists. In fact to some observers the move goes against the very mandate of BTO of attracting tourists to the country; and comes on the back of Botswana already being considered to be an expensive tourism destination for international tourists. The grounds for this high end pricing of most of the country’s tourism offerings has always been on grounds that it meant to ensure that the high quality of the product was sustained. As such, experts now wonder about the logic behind the extra charges.
HATAB opposes levy
At this year’s annual conference members of the Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) raised alarm at the proposed levy on grounds that they were no consulted when it was mooted. “There is an emergence of new issues which are result of lack of consultation with HATAB and other stakeholders,” HATAB chairman Dr Thapelo Matsheka was quoted saying by a local newspaper. The industry players appear to be worried that the levy may result with a reduction in business as tourists decide to choose less expensive destinations. BTO official promised to do further consultation after the HATAB rebuff but it is not clear how far that has gone. HATAB members have also protested the 233 percent hike in exhibition fees which saw small to medium operators charge rising from P3, 000 to P10, 000 while bigger operators’ went from P9, 000 to P 30,000.
Minister Khama it will appear will have to do more at Guma’s committee by going further to demonstrate the extent of consultations he has undertaken and the approvals he has secured to implement the levy. It is not clear whether he has already secured Cabinet approval for the measure. Meanwhile other markets appear to be opening up to tourism levies which are being spearheaded by pro-green organisations and parties. New Zealand as recently as August was debating the introduction of the levy. An island in Spain also adopted its own levy regime to protect its natural resources and promote “sustainable tourism.” “We are grateful that our visitors will help to protect and preserve this little paradise with this small contribution,” Biel Barcelo, vice president of the islands’ coalition government. Among other places the levy is common in Barcelona, Morocco, Maldives and New York.
Absence of Board
Minister Khama’s direct involvement with BTO came after he dismantled the board and took long to appoint a new one because he wanted to select qualified people who would not fail the organisation. Meanwhile he has not wasted any time in taking a raft of measures, introducing and sponsoring more events and overhauling the organisational structure. Already an executive Julian Blackbeard, who signed over the Dubai office deal without the approval of the CEO, has been elevated to a senior position. The CEO resigned allegedly on grounds that he was being overlooked in decision making processes for the organisation. Minister Khama also drew P88 million from the Tourism Development Fund without the approval of cabinet, even side-lining his PS. hen Guma asked him at the last appearance before his committee to state the grounds on which he was side-lining cabinet and his PS when taking some of the big decision like drawing P88 million from Tourism Fund, the outspoken Tshekedi Khama said that they don’t want to change. People don’t want to change. I can’t work with people who believe in red tapes and fail to adapt to the new development,” he hit out in a clear reference to his PS. The P88 million was used to fund some of the tourism activities including Race for Rhino, Makgadikgadi Epic, World Strongest Man event and the Gaborone Air show.