Tourism defies BTO mess

SHARE   |   Monday, 31 October 2016   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
Tourism defies BTO mess

Despite the raucus unfolding at Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) involving a Cabinet Minister, Permanent Secretary, Chief Executive Officer and the Board of Directors showing widespread mismanagement, the travel and tourism sector has defied all. Away from governance failure, safari tourism is booming in Botswana and travel guide Lonely Planet put the country top of its list of places to visit in 2016. In sharp contrast to the mess in the boardroom, which cost the taxpayer millions of pula and attracted curiosity from forensic auditors, tourism remains resilient and holds great potential for economic diversification. The contribution of tourism – the highest economic revenue earner after minerals – to local job creation and citizen empowerment as well to GDP continues to increase.

Tourism and associated hospitality industries has been a major driver of economic diversification, with an estimated 35,000 jobs in 2015. Travel & Tourism is an important economic activity in most countries around the world. As well as its direct economic impact, the sector has significant indirect and induced impacts. Botswana has experienced a 45% increase in licensed enterprises over the past decade, with 135 newly licensed citizen owned enterprises in 2013-14 alone. As of May 2014, 61% were citizen owned, 23% were joint ventures, while only 16% were foreign owned.

2016 WTTC findings

The 2016 World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) report, released recently, on the economic impact of the tourism in Botswana affirms expert advice repeatedly rendered, showing that the country should look to the sector to save the economy. The total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP was P17, 540.2 million (11.6% of GDP) in 2015, and is forecast to rise by 2.6% in 2016 and to rise by 5.1% per annum to P29. 588.3 million (12.8% of GDP) in 2026. On the other hand, the direct contribution of travel and tourism to GDP was P6.246.3 million (4.1% of total GDP) in 2015 and is forecast to rise by 1.9% in 2016 and to rise by 5.6% per annum from 2016-2026 to P11, 009.3 million (4.8% of total GDP) in 2026. Direct contribution reflects the economic activity generated by industries such as hotels, restaurant and leisure industries, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transportation services.

In 2015 travel and tourism directly supported 28, 500 jobs (3.0% of total employment). This is expected to remain unchanged in 2016 and rise by 3.7 % per annum to 41 000 jobs (3.6% of total employment) in 2026. The total contribution to employment in 2015, including jobs indirectly supported by the industry, was 8.0% of total employment (75, 500 jobs). This is expected to rise by 1.3% in 2016 to76, 500 jobs and rise by 2.3% per annum to 97 000 jobs in 2026 (8.5% of total). Travel and tourism investment in 2015 was P3, 490.8 million, or 8.5% of total investment. It is expected to rise by 3.2% in 2016, and grow by 3.9% per annum over the next ten years to P5, 277.8million in 2026. For the fifth successive year, the growth of the Travel & Tourism sector in 2015 (2.8%) outpaced that of the global economy (2.3%) and a number of other major sectors such as manufacturing and retail. The non-mining sectors collectively registered a positive growth rate of 5.0 percent in 2013, with Trade, Hotels & Restaurants growing at 6.3 percent. In total, Travel & Tourism generated US $7.2 trillion (9.8% of global GDP) and supported 284 million jobs, equivalent to 1 in 11 jobs in the global economy in 2015. It is anticipated to support over 370 million jobs by 2026.

But, according to David Scowsill - WTTC President & CEO – such strong growth will require tourism destinations across the world to provide environments that are conducive to business development. It will require effective coordination between public institutions and the private sector around the world. Scowsill says the outlook for Travel & Tourism in 2016 remains robust, despite economic fragilities and other sources of volatility in the wider market. The sector’s GDP growth contribution is expected to accelerate and again outpace growth of the wider economy and many other industries over the next decade, he said. “Stronger growth in 2016 is likely to be underpinned by an improving global economy. The lowest oil prices in more than a decade will continue to boost demand through lower transport costs, whilst household finances and disposable income will benefit from reduced energy costs,” he said.

WTTC observes that through the last year, safety and security concerns have moved into the spotlight, and these issues will continue to cause difficulties in the years ahead. We note that the sector remains resilient and that governments are working hard to ensure the safety of tourists and to minimise the impact of security threats. There are other factors which are influencing the flow of travellers around the world. Notably, the strength of the US dollar relative to other currencies is shifting the price competitiveness of destinations and will affect who travels where this year. Undoubtedly new developments will emerge alongside these existing factors. “Travel & Tourism is a key force for good, and it has proven in the past that it is strong and adaptable enough to face any challenges. It will continue to grow, to create jobs, and to bring economic and social benefits,” said Scowsill.

Diversifying tourism product
In an effort to promote a broadening of the tourism product, in collaboration with the BTO and the private sector, Botswana is implementing a number strategies which are yet to bear fruit. A number of new attractions have been opened up in less developed areas such as Kgalagadi, Tswapong and Bobirwa. “With the approval of management plans we will soon also open up dams for tourism and recreation purposes.  In addition, events such as Makgadikgadi Epic sky dive, the Khawa Dune Challenge and the Toyota Kalahari 1000 Desert Race are bringing in visitors while raising our country’s profile,” President Ian Khama announced in the 2015 SONA. He said another means of diversifying tourism is the development of historic and cultural, as well as natural heritage sites. There has been diversification of the CBNRM product with some communities engaging in projects that utilise monuments and heritage sites.

New tourism sites are currently being assessed with local communities for development in such areas as the Central Kgalagadi and Khutse Game Reserves, while a South Sowa trail in Makgadikgadi has been developed through partnership with Botswana Ash and Debswana Diamond Mine.“In protecting and promoting our country’s rich cultural heritage we are ratifying three UNESCO conventions to strengthen our care of cultural properties and heritage sites. Our conservation efforts were, of course, this year also acknowledged in the Okavango Delta’s listing as the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage Site,” said Khama. Government has also imposed a moratorium on hunting on public land to conserve wildlife heritage. Community based organisations and concessions are persuaded to re-align their management plans to facilitate transition from hunting to photographic tourism. Under the Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) Policy, the operations of Community Based Organizations are being commercialized to increase the benefits for participating communities and individuals. During 2014/15 financial year, a total of P14 million was generated by Wildlife Community Based Organizations, creating 425 new jobs.

To create further employment as part of ESP, government is focusing on the Kasane–Kazungula Redevelopment Project, which will upgrade Kasane as a premier tourist centre. Khama promised that additional tourist projects and infrastructure across the country to be boosted by ESP include: Dams, cultural and eco-tourism, conferences and events along with the hospitality sector, which will together bring a facelift to our country. Additional projects will be accelerated through ESP funding and the provision of additional rural infrastructure. In addition to raising awareness about different tourism products through strategic marketing and promotion initiatives and partnerships, including daily outreach through BWgovernment social media, BTO has partnered with National Geographic for the World Legacy Award 2016 and the International Travel Bourse Berlin as a partner country for 2017. The jury is still out, on whether these partnerships and developments will enhance the growth of the tourism sector.