BSE-listed tourism concern, Chobe Holdings, has joined a growing list of Air Botswana castigators, labelling the national carrier's sub-standard service as the single biggest challenge to the growth of the tourism industry in the country.
Announcing their financial results for the six months ended 31 August 2010, Chobe said Air Botswana's failure to offer internationally acceptable service and its monopoly of routes into Northern Botswana was to the detriment of their business, which was heavily dependent on reliable air transport.
"The biggest challenge the tourism industry faces within Botswana remains the often sub-standard service rendered by Air Botswana, the only air carrier allowed to service the tourist industry in the Okavango," said Managing Director, Jonathan Gibson.
"This situation has been further exacerbated by the discontinuance of the direct Johannesburg-Maun-Johannesburg route occasioned by our Civil Aviation Authority's refusal to allow foreign-based airlines to compete with Air Botswana on this route, thus necessitating an en-route diversion and stop in Gaborone.
"As the majority of our clients access or depart via the traditional tourism gateway of Maun, this factor has further added to delays, costs and travellers' inconvenience."
Following the breakdown of negotiations between Botswana and South Africa in July this year over a Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA), South Africa has forced Botswana to cease its Johannesburg-Maun direct flight from the beginning of October, in retaliation for Botswana's continued monopolisation of the route.
South African airlines have been trying to break into the lucrative route, but the Botswana government has refused to open up the skies in protection of Air Botswana.
No other airline has scheduled flights from Johannesburg, which is the air access point of nearly all long haul traffic from Europe and the US to Maun, the largest tourist attraction in southern Africa.
Tourism is Botswana's second-largest foreign currency earner and contributor to the country's Gross Domestic Product after mining, and has been identified to become one of the key drivers of
The industry is also a vital contributor to government levies in the form of park fees, lease rentals, resource royalties, VAT and other taxes. On the other hand, Air Botswana has been a net user of government funds.
"Chobe believes that the country as a whole will benefit from a fully implemented open skies policy within which Air Botswana should and can be a competent competitor," said Gibson.
Although the government has adopted an open skies policy, not much work has been done on the ground, as it remains committed to protecting Air Botswana.
As a remedy, tourism operators have called on the government to either adopt a strategic plan to develop its national airline and routes or let other players come in.
Said another tourism operator in an earlier interview with Mmegi: "If Government is not committed to the airline, then it must open the skies to foreign airlines and accept the consequences of this.
"The strength of the South African position is made worse for Botswana because in truth, nearly all long haul air access into Botswana is via OR Tambo.
"So long as Government sits in the middle, with no direction in the tourism industry - and in truth all industry in Botswana - (businesses) will be adversely affected by poor connections."
Meanwhile, Chobe Holdings says for the period, revenue increased by a marginal nine percent while bed nights increased by 10 percent with operating expenses increasing by nine percent year-on-year.
However, profit for the period softened from P17,4 million in the previous period last year to P15,6 million.
The group also says the continued weakness of the US dollar has adversely affected revenues, which are predominantly in that currency.