Botswana tourism sector which is regarded as the most sought after by international tourists but not affordable to most Batswana due to the low volume high value policy is also squeezing out locals from participating in the business.
The sector, especially in the Okavango Delta and Chobe area which are lucrative, is controlled by foreigners and most Batswana who want to venture into the lucrative safari camps are side-lined. The direct contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP was P7, 129.6million (USD687.5million) or 3.8% of total GDP in 2017 and is forecast to rise by 5.8% in 2018 and to rise by 4.5% per annum from 2018-2028 to BWP11,737.0 million (USD1,131.8million) or 3.9% of total GDP in 2028, according to World Travel and Tourism Report of 2018.
The report further states that the total contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP was P21, 496.5million (USD2, 072.9mn) or 11.5% of GDP in 2017 and is forecast to rise by 4.9% in 2018 and to rise by 4.5% per annum to P34, 874.2million (USD3, 363.0mn) or 11.7% of GDP in 2028.
With this impressive contribution to the economy, most Batswana have decried that they are just spectators in the industry which deals mostly with natural resources and in which they could be actively participating in.
One of the few successful Batswana in the tourism sector Reaboka Mbulawa has confessed that the ‘the tourism politics of big versus small and white versus Black’ were alive and real in the sector.
The 43-year-old Mbulawa together with his wife and two other partners entered the ‘dog eat dog’ industry in 2009 by starting Savuti Linyati Khwai (SLK) Group of Camps but faced tough resistance due to the colour of their skins.
“Normally there is great resistance in both the industry and trade and is difficult to penetrate both based on colour and the size of the establishment,” he said.
A study released in 2015 has indicated that 81.5 per cent of the tourist facilities in Maun and in the Okavango Delta have foreign influence with 53.8 per cent 100% foreign-owned.
The study has further revealed that enclave tourism in the Ngamiland district is rife but the downside of it is that locals are economically and politically marginalised and have no control over natural resource management and conservation.
SLK Group, which operates campsites in Savuti, Linyati, Khwai and Kumaga, didn’t have it easy in getting leases as mostly the conditions were ambiguous, decried Mbulawa pointing a finger at the Ministry of Tourism for making it tough for them.
“The government has always disadvantaged us locals in leases as we are given short ambiguous leases against our white counterparts who are given long leases with simple conditions,” he said, adding that it has always been a pain in their neck since they opened operations.
According to the Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2018 Report, Travel & Tourism is expected to have attracted capital investment of P4, 596.8mn in 2017. This is expected to rise by 3.3% in 2018 and by 4.5% pa over the next 10 years to P7, 357.2mn in 2028.
SLK Group operates in three National Parks being Chobe, Moremi and Makgadikgadi. They recently bought Crocodile Camp Safari and Spa in Maun.
Foreign influence in the tourist facilities in Maun and in the Okavango Delta are at 81.5% with 53.8% being 100% foreign-owned. Citizens and expatriates are reported to jointly own about 27.7 per cent of them while only 18.5 per cent owned 100% by citizens.
SLK Group, according to Mbulawa, has employed about 200 Batswana and expects to employ more as their business grows.
According to the Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2018 report on Botswana, Travel and Tourism generated 26,000 jobs directly in 2017 (2.6% of total employment) and this is forecast to grow by 4.3% in 2018 to 27,000. This includes employment by hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transportation services (excluding commuter services). It also includes, for example, the activities of the restaurant and leisure industries directly supported by tourists.
Tourism has been the second contributor of GDP to the economy and according to the report visitor exports are a key component of the direct contribution of Travel & Tourism. In 2017, Botswana generated P7, 119.6mn in visitor exports. In 2018, this is expected to grow by 5.7%, and the country is expected to attract 1,874,000 international tourist arrivals.
Special Youth Fund
As a way of encouraging Batswana to fully participate in the tourism sector, Mbulawa called for a deliberate youth fund into tourism.
“I advocate for a special youth fund that will ensure job creation and new business development of young Batswana in the industry as a policy,” he insisted.
He also called for the launch of a purposeful land bank for locals in the tourism sector as acquisition of land in the tourism lucrative areas has since been a huge problem for locals, challenging Government to fully look into and invest in this area.