Over 80 European and local tour operators graced the second annual Botswana Travel and Tourism Expo in Kasane this week. The participants, particularly local operators were happy that the Expo was bound to help grow their businesses.
Through the Expo the local operators had a chance to have a one-on-one business meeting with the European operators to share knowledge and foster for future partnerships.
Speaking at the Expo, the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama said it was meant to provide a platform for overseas-based tour operators to have direct face to face business dialogues with local industry operators. He said such interactions are vital for promoting an atmosphere conducive for mutual understanding between the two.
“This helps in the bridging of the geographic and cultural gabs between the two and to build enduring business relationships,” he added.
International tourists have always been a key component to the direct contribution of the Travel and Tourism towards GDP in Botswana. To push for an increased inflow of international tourists Botswana Tourism Organisation held the Tourism Expo, which provides a unique opportunity for local tourism industry operators to establish partnerships with the their counterparts in Europe.
Khama noted that tourism has been recognised by the government of Botswana as one of the key sectors that can induce sustained economic growth. He therefore said it is within his ministry’s portfolio to translate this into actionable reality. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the direct contribution of Botswana’s travel and tourism to GDP shows a steady growth. WTTC expects the contribution to grow by 7.8% from last year’s P5, 486.600 to P5, 902.200 this year.
The international tour operators in attendance were from countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. Most of the local operators hailed BTO’s initiative for providing them with the chance to learn from the international operators and have the opportunity to get into partnerships with them.
Thomas Perschil of Planet Wilderness Safaris based in Maun said the Expo is a good thing that needs to be continued and grown. “It provides a good opportunity for local small operators to learn and seek partnerships with big European operators,” he explained. According to Perschil, the Expo should be run every year. He, however, is of a view that only small operators should be allowed to take part in this Expo.
“Some operators are already established so they should not be part of this Expo as they can afford to do business dealings with the overseas operators already. If they continue to be allowed then the small operators will remain small as the big ones will muscle over them,” explained Perschil. The former tour guide said priority should be given to smaller operators for them to grow as well.
He shared the same sentiments with Dominic Mothukuthedi of Dumela Lodge in Francistown. Mothukuthedi said the business they are in depends on networking as such the Expo is very useful to them. He gave an example that for a tourist to come to Botswana he or she would have to talk to someone who knows places locally and such forums provide a stepping stone for the international tour operators to know them. “It is good to get overseas agents to know us and what we offer so that they can recommend us to the international tourists when they come to Botswana,” he pointed.
Just like Perschil, Mothukuthedi believes that the forum should however be for small upcoming local operators only since others are already established. He fears that as things are right now only a few operators will grow and the rest will remain small and eventually die out.
Mothukuthedi urged local operators to work together to grow themselves. He is worried that local operators do not help each other but rather would work with foreigners than one of their own. “This is a big blow to us as it hinders our business growth,” he said. He said Batswana should help each other to grow their business.
Even though the operators are happy with the Travel and Tourism Expo, Perschil suggested that BTO should consider taking the local operators to Europe to allow them to secure their markets. Mothukuthedi also supported this, saying it should be done on a rotational basis where one year local operators are taken to Europe then the other year the Europeans come to Botswana. The two of them feel it will be more effective this way. Mothukuthedi advised that for local tourism operators to further grow in business they should have a voice. He said they should form permanent and functional associations that will speak for them.
BTO Public Relations and Communications Manager Keitumetse Setlang said the Expo was organised to try and influence change in the mindset on how the world views Botswana. While in Botswana the European tour operators had the opportunity to go on game drives, boat cruises and scenic flights to experience the beauty of Botswana. Setlang said the idea is to show the world that Botswana is a destination of choice with international operators having first-hand information and experience. The intention is to ultimately increase the socio economic returns for Botswana through an improved inflow of international tourists.