Tourism operators in the Ngamiland have called on government to open borders and allow international travelers to revive the ailing economy, especially the tourism sector which is currently on its knees due to devastating impact of coronavirus pandemic.
Last week neighbouring South Africa and Namibia announced that they will open up their borders for international travel with effect from Thursday (October 01). Tourism business magnate, who owns Crocodile Camp and SKL group of Camps, Reaboka Mbulawa told this publication that international tourists are the backbone of tourism in Ngamiland mainly for Big Five game photographic safaris.
Mbulawa said mobile sector and the delta camps including the air charter companies remain closed and out of business because of the closure of borders. He said if the status quo remains for an extended period Ngamiland livelihood and revenue sources will diminish. He said they support the opening of South Africa and Namibia borders as the two countries are entry points for most tourists from developed countries with Zimbabwe's Victoria falls being the third entry point through their international airport. "We need to open our airports and start forging our clients within our well-organized laws and covid 19 protocols," he said.
Another tour operator, the Director of Naga Safaris, Kenson Kgaga concurred with Mbulawa that the time has come for Botswana to open borders for international travel as the sector which is backbone in the tourism industry in the region. Kgaga who is also the chairman of Botswana Guiding Association, said most of employees who were working in the tourism sector have been laid off and most of tourism enterprises have run out of revenue and will soon shut down if borders are not open. Kgaga also called for direct flights from Europe to Maun, Kasane or Gaborone to avoid the tourists getting through South African route which has surging cases of coronavirus.
When delivering opening remarks at a full council session in Maun this week, Chairman of North West District Council (NWDC), Kebareeditse Ntsogotho revealed that 62.7% of the tourism facilities had already experienced postponement in bookings, an increase of 11.6% from the first phase of the Covid 19 impact survey. He also added that over 92 .7% of facilities reported cancellations in bookings. The facility operators however remain pessimistic about the future outlook in terms of bookings, predicting a downward spiral which is likely to reach zero new bookings.
He added that currently 57 facilities out of total of 96 are open for business (60. 4%) in the North West District but with a limited number of arrivals. "Job losses were registered as a result, with 8.1% of employees that were employed in these facilities laid off," Ntsogotho lamented, adding that in order to avert more job losses, 93.7% of tourism enterprises reported that they intend to apply for government wage subsidy.
Ntsogotho further stressed that loss revenue of P2 236,149, 56 owing to cancelled and postponed bookings was registered among 2232 interviewed facilities nationally. He added that it is estimated that, on average, each facility had lost around P1 283,422.74 as a result of the postponement and cancellations.
Ntsogotho further stated that in an effort to up with covid 19 recovery measures come avert measures the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) has come up with a number of proposals to government. He stressed that the proposed measures will go a long way in saving the sector from total collapse. The proposed measures include among others, Establishment of Tourism Specific Post Covid 1 relief strategy, Establishment and facilitation of a Revolving fund, Extend Wage Subsidy Period for a years, CBO s allocated concessions in Wildlife Management Areas to utilize their sub lease fees as major source of revenue for their operations at Trust/CBOs level, Reduction or Temporary Elimination of Aviation Costs for Air Charters Subsidy on Vehicle Fuel prices as this will stimulate local travel across the country. BTO should further consider waiving fees for participation at international markets fairs for the next two years of recovery and the Department of Tourism should issue a bad levy payment break, at least for a year because there are no prospects of return to normality during 2020.
Ntsogotho further stated BTO has also developed and shared the covid 19 operational guidelines in a form of a toolkit to assist in enabling the transition from lockdown to full operation by providing clarity on what will and should happen as operators reopen their business and return to the workplace.