Botswana tourism bounces back after Covid knock

Nature based tourism forms the backbone of the industry in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

Botswana tourism bounces back after Covid knock

Although the impact of Covid-19 on the conservation efforts and the tourism industry in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe was substantial, these sectors are finding their feet again, and in fact, are making significant gains.

By Leon Louw, owner and editor of WhyAfrica

Tourism has traditionally been the backbone of the economies of these Southern African countries. Being an industry that can absorb large chunks of unskilled workers, and at the same time ensure sustainable development, tourism has many benefits. Conservation of the unique ecosystems of the Namib desert in the south, and the wildlife and nature in and around the Kavango, Chobe and Zambezi Rivers in the north, remains the backbone of a thriving tourism industry.

Upon visiting some of these areas during the WhyAfrica Southern Africa Road Trip, it is encouraging to see that especially small, medium, and micro enterprises (SMMEs) are up and running again after the halt in tourism arrivals affected these smaller operations the most.

It is even more encouraging to see that the conservation of National Parks and wildlife areas remained intact, despite the challenges faced in the wake of the global pandemic.

Botswana makes a comeback

In Botswana, where tourism is the third biggest contributor to the country’s GDP, after diamonds and beef, operations are almost back to normal, but pre-Covid numbers are still a way off. Covid-19 restrictions were stringent in Botswana, and some measures are still in place. For example, masks are still compulsory in public spaces, and vaccination certificates needs to be produced upon arrival at the border. These measures could, of course, prevent short term growth in new arrivals. However, the recovery seems to gain momentum, and the SMMEs are celebrating the most.

The impact of Covid-19                     

In May 2020, amidst the global pandemic, the  United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) anticipated a 58% to 78% decline in tourist arrivals. UNWTO further observed that SMMEs will be particularly impacted. The SMMEs make up around 80% of the tourism sector globally.

Of the 1.8 million tourist arrivals recorded in 2017 in Botswana, 84% were from Africa while the remaining 16% were from countries such as the United States, Germany and the UK. However, revenues from overseas far outweigh those from the African continent due to the country’s high value/low impact tourism strategy—with the goal of minimising environmental impacts and at the same time maximising socio-economic benefits.

According to a snap survey conducted by the Botswanan Local Enterprise Authority (LEA) covering 382 SMMEs, the tourism sector suffered a 72% revenue loss in March 2020. Furthermore, of the 382 SMMEs surveyed, 209 had loans and the tourism sector accounted for 6% of the loan balance.

According to Wame Hambira is a professor and researcher at the University of Botswana, the SMMEs are mostly hard hit because their working capital is largely financed through prepaid bookings. Consequently, as clients cancelled their bookings, they demanded refunds which companies could not afford.

“Furthermore, most tourism businesses operate on bank loans which need to be serviced monthly in addition to other expenses such as staff salaries and other bills. Therefore, loss of revenue resulted in some operators not being able to honor their contractual obligations toward their financiers. Some travel and tourism SMMEs operate from rented facilities and lack of income has resulted in some being unable to pay their rent. Some companies have had to release their staff due to lack of business. While some sectors may easily convert to working from home, this is not plausible in the tourism sector because of the nature of the business which requires physical interaction with clients,” says Hambira.

Despite a range of measures introduced by government to support the tourism industry, estimates show that some subsectors of the tourism sector may take a year or more to recover.

Hambira writes in a recent article that there are some lessons to be learned as the industry prepares for the future. “These include the importance of insurance that covers business interruptions caused by public health crises. Clearly, a dialogue is needed between the tourism industry and the insurance sector which currently concentrates on insurance that only covers physical damage caused by disasters, such as floods and fires, and not the effects of pandemics,” Hambira writes.

“It has become apparent that not only is it necessary to put in place mechanisms that will enable tourism SMMES to bounce back from the effects of Covid-19, a transformational agenda with implementation timelines is also necessary to protect the industry against future pandemics. This includes investing in domestic tourism which has, up to now, not received the attention it deserves due to the exclusive nature of the “High Value-Low Impact” tourism policy adopted in Botswana. These changes will come with diversification of the tourism product away from wildlife-based tourism to include other products that will be more appealing and affordable to the domestic market,” Hambira concludes.

Wame Hambira is a professor and researcher at the University of Botswana

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Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in natural resources and African affairs.        

WhyAfrica provides you with business intelligence that matters. WhyAfrica specialises in African affairs and natural resources. Africa is our business, and we want it to be yours too. To subscribe to WhyAfrica’s free newsletter or digital magazine, and for more news on Africa, visit the website at www.whyafrica.co.za or send a direct message. WhyAfrica launched its first ever digital magazine in November 2021. The company will undertake a road trip through South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana in June and July 2022. If you are interested in sponsorship or advertising opportunities, please contact me at leon@whyafrica.co.za. We have a wide range of different packages and combo deals to give your company the greatest exposure to a rapidly growing, African readership.  

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