The tourism sector can contribute more to Botswana’s economy provided there are structural changes and a conducive environment for the industry to thrive on, Chairman of Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB), Dr. Thapelo Matsheka has told Botswana Guardian. Tourism is among the biggest contributors to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) although it is grouped under trade, hotels and restaurant by Statistics Botswana. Figures from government shows the tourism sector continues to grow, in the process picking the economy while other sectors such as mining are faltering.
The country’s GDP expanded by 6, 5 percent in the last fourth quarter of 2017, lifted by an 18, 1 percent expansion in trade, hotels and restaurants which tourism is part of. For 2017, the sector expanded by 7, 3 percent despite tough economic conditions in the year under discussion.
According to World Travel Tourism Council 2017 report, the travel and tourism industry’s total contribution to GDP was P17, 7 billion in 2016 and was forecast to rise by 6,5 percent in the past year.
However, Matsheka who has been the Chairperson of the advocacy body since 2013, noted with concerns that, while it has grown exponentially over the years, uncoordinated strategies and lack of consultations can only derail the sector. Department of Tourism, Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) and private sector-led HATAB are the key institutions that should work in sync in all matters that affect the industry.
Matsheka, an economist by training who is respected by his peers, stopped short of saying the relationship between government and the industry is not one of the best and this will work against growth of the sector. “The industry is growing on its own,” said Matsheka.
He added that, all concerned stakeholders, government and the industry should have coordinated activities that are geared towards the same goal-of making Botswana the destination of choice for tourists. Botswana still needs to be part of regional bodies that have been established to drive tourism.
His reasons are that, tourism by nature is inter-linked between countries, hence the need to work as a collective in wooing tourists, especially within the SADC region. HATAB is fuming that government through the ministry of environment, natural resources and conservation has withdrawn Botswana’s membership at Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa (RETOSA) without any consultation.
Minister Tshekedi Khama has said it was prudent to cut ties with the body since its benefit is not noticeable apart from the P2 million subscription fee paid by government. The industry’s prosperity is also hindered by legislative frameworks which could have been long revised. The Tourism Policy of 1990, Tourism Master Plan of 2000, Wildlife and National Parks, Environmental and Impact Assessment Act are just some of the frameworks that should be revised since they are now an impediment to growth.
Botswana, a landlocked country, has been advised to diversify within the sector itself, a move which could cement sustainability in the sector. Urban tourism has also been touted, but as things stand, the country still has to go a long way in diversifying within the multi-million sector. “Without a progressive (tourism) master plan we cannot diversify within the sector,” said Matsheka. At the recent HATAB conference, tourism ministry’s deputy Permanent Secretary, Felix Mongae said the industry will soon have a new policy. The industry should also utilise the tourism training levy to improved skills which is a critical component of growth. “The Levy is currently under-utilised,” noted Matsheka. HATAB, which was formed in 1982, represents over 300 players in the sector. The advocacy body is also encouraging its members to invest back in the community in which they operate, so as to have an inclusive growth.