BTO looks to diversify tourism product

SHARE   |   Sunday, 01 March 2015   |   By Othusitse Tlhobogang
BTO Chief Executive Officer Thabo Dithebe BTO Chief Executive Officer Thabo Dithebe PIC: OMANG KILANO

• Maun, Kasane facelift planned

Newly appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Botswana Tourism (BTO) Thabo Dithebe says tourism provides an ample opportunity for economic growth and employment creation in the country. Dithebe said all this can be attained through focusing on the diversification of tourism product to reduce over reliance on wildlife attractions.
Addressing the media on Tuesday about his road map as the CEO, Dithebe said product diversification forms the basis of BTO’s 2013-2018 strategy. He said for a long time Botswana has been relying on the already established products such as the wildlife and the wilderness experience. “Some countries do not have such establishments but they still manage to attract tourists by creating products that attract travel,” said Dithebe.
He gave an example with what France did with the Eiffel Towers which attracts millions of visitors in a year. “We are lucky we found the Okavango delta but we can still do more to grow this industry to stimulate growth and create employment," said Dithebe, adding that the time is now for Botswana to look further into creating her own products to begin attracting more tourists.
In efforts to intensify this Dithebe said their strategy will be focusing more on activities such as sports and adventure tourism. Of recent the country has seen a boom of such activities which attracted a number of tourists into the country. These include annual activities such as the Khawa Dune Challenge, Toyota 1000 Desert race, Makgadikgadi epic. A new proposed event of Botswana Air Race that the CEO said is on the cards. BTO is also looking at taking advantage of cultural heritage tourism where tourists will learn more of the way of life of Batswana in the areas they travel to. To this effect Dithebe said they are aiming to take advantage of the already existing heritage sides and further develop them to make sure they are suitable for tourism activity. “Nowadays tourists want authenticity, they travel to experience the Okavango and then they want to see the people who live around the area to learn their culture,” he said.     
As such, he said they have come up with an initiative to try and bring tourist activity to the town of Maun. He said tourists come into Maun airport and only leave immediately for the deltas and do not spend much time in the town itself because there are no consummate facilities and activities that can keep them there. Therefore a proposal is being made to turn the Maun Recreational Park into a tourist attraction centre which will have state of the art Cultural heritage Park, quality restaurants and education centres.  “We believe that Maun Recreational Park is underutilised and has a huge potential to change the face of Maun. Therefore if private sector can come on board to help take advantage of the park tourism will begin to boom in the town and could keep tourists longer in the area," he said.
The upgrade of Kasane/Kazungula area is also one of the priorities for BTO under Dithebe’s leadership to add value towards tourism locally. The area is located at the heart of the Kavango Zambezi Trans Frontier Conservation Area (KAZA) which is a prime tourist attraction point among five countries. As such Dithebe said Botswana should take advantage of this and place Kasane to compete with the other areas like the Victoria falls, Livingstone and Katimamolelo. “Kasane should be redeveloped to position it strategically in the area to be a tourism hub. The town therefore needs a face lift in order for this to be achieved,” he said.
According to Dithebe the Chobe river front is a prime area for tourism yet it is underdeveloped. He believes that there is a lot that can be done to develop Kasane into a tourism hub. The organisation is proposing that there should be uptown facilities built along the river front that include lodges, craft market, jetty points, office blocks, apartments as well as sporting complexes.  
The CEO revealed that government has since approved this and detailed planning for the initiative is currently undertaken with relevant stakeholders. He feels that should all the proposed initiatives be implemented they will not only change the face of Kasane but also have the capability of stimulate tourism growth in the country. Dithebe however said all this can only be possible through the support of private companies. He also urged Batswana to change their attitudes towards tourists and be welcoming and nice to them so that they can enjoy their stay here and come back again.

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