Mmegi Online :: Desert & Delta Safaris - Leading the pack in responsible tourism
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Last Updated
Friday 20 September 2019, 16:30 pm.
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Desert & Delta Safaris - Leading the pack in responsible tourism

Responsible tourism used to be just about caring for the natural environment. Desert & Delta Safaris (DDS) has however taken this responsibility in a much more sustainable direction by investing and developing their human resource – Batswana.
By Thalefang Charles Fri 14 Sep 2018, 13:23 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Desert & Delta Safaris - Leading the pack in responsible tourism








Established in 1982, DDS is one of the leading groups of successful safari operators in Botswana. While most of the tourist resorts in the country are outsourcing skilled labour to expatriates, DDS has taken a bold decision to develop their local human capital.

“The wealth of this high value, low volume tourism approach had to trickle down to the local population,” states James Wilson, marketing director at DDS.  Botswana tourism industry has for many years been concentrated in the hands of expatriates. In most tourist establishments owned mostly by foreign investors, all the key positions are still held by non-citizens. That is not the case at DDS.

“Not only are our luxury camps run exclusively by Batswana, today the majority of the senior management at these properties comprises women,” explains Wilson.

In 2005, the company’s flagship entity, Chobe Game Lodge in Kasane introduced the first and only all-female guiding team in Africa aptly called ‘Chobe Angles’. Many across the globe applauded the pioneering move by the company. The story of the Chobe Angles has been featured in top travel publications and leading newspapers.

In 2014, DDS were trailblazers in green travel when they introduced the first ever electric game drive vehicle at Chobe Game Lodge. The management of the group said the introduction of the silent electric game drive vehicles together with electric boats was a demonstration of their commitment to preserving the environment.

DDS has recently introduced CARES, an ambitious philosophy which they say would shape and drive the company.

“The CARES philosophy is the foundation on which Desert & Delta Safaris is built, highlighting our core values in developing human potential and building a sustainable tourism model,” says Wilson. The CARES is an acronym of C - Career & Community, A - Advanced Health Programme, R - Responsibility to Environment, E - Equality in the workplace and S - Soul & Spirituality.

DDS says with the CARES, they are committed to developing the human potential of Botswana citizens and preserving the natural heritage.

 

Humans of DDS

Recently, I had the privilege of meeting the people behind the DDS success and experiencing the hospitality of DDS at their newly refurbished luxury camps namely Camp Okavango and Camp Moremi in the Okavango Delta.

At Camp Okavango, which is located on a remote Nxaraga Island in the heart of the Okavango Delta, I met some of the first employees of DDS.

Odumetse John Kate, 65, who says he originates from where the camp is currently located, started with the company before it even formalised in 1980. The old man appears reserved and quiet but when he starts to talk, he is cheeky and is an amazing storyteller.

With over 30 years of guiding, Kate has so many exciting wilderness stories to tell. He has had his close encounters with lions, elephants and crocodiles. His amazing storytelling would make exciting bedtime stories.

He has seen the development of Botswana tourism from hunting to photographic safaris. Kate has helped build both of DDS’ first camps (Camp Okavango & Camp Moremi) in the Okavango Delta.

Kate says he started as a groundsman and then became a boat-man ferrying goods from town to camps in the bush. He then became a certified guide mostly conducting bush walks and mokoro rides.

“I don’t even know how I learnt English names of these birds but I know them all,” boasts the old man. His knowledge of the wilderness is so deep that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) recognised it and was awarded a guiding licence.

“For some of us who started this, we were assessed here by the DWNP and given licences,” reveals Kate. Another inspiring story from DDS is Keogotsitse Fred Karapo (60 years) who started as groundsman in 1992 and is currently the camp manager of Xugana

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Camp.

Karapo is eloquent when he tells a story and has authoritative voice that commands listeners to pay attention.

“While at the back of the house, working as groundsman, I showed my interest to be a guide and my bosses allowed me to learn,” reveals Karapo.

He says he started understudying the professional guides until he sat for guiding examinations and passed to get a guiding licence.

DDS later enrolled him on management courses that led him to become a trainee assistant manager in a couple of their Camps.

In 2009, he became the camp manager at Leroo La Tau Camp in Makgadikgadi Pans until 2013 when he moved to Xugana Camp in the Okavango Delta.

Karapo explains that managing Leroo La Tau Camp was challenging because it was partly owned by the community and most of the community members were not well versed with tourism businesses.

He says, “I had to educate the community about the importance of tourism, especially sustainable tourism like photographic safaris”.

Karapo says Batswana must take pride in their land and learn the importance of preserving its natural resources because there are many benefits that could be derived from it.

Julia Moshagane is one of the many inspiring women leaders who are running DDS camps and is currently the manager at Camp Xakanaka.

She is the first generation of Hotel and Tourism Batswana graduates who entered the industry before the Botswana’s tertiary institution had such courses.

Moshagane at 47 years still has a ready and charming smile like a true hospitality veteran. She has a welcoming face and talks greatly about life in the bush. “To survive here, in this work, in this bush, in this industry, one has to really love the job and really love the bush too,” she advises.

She says because the job involves workers to be away from their families and friends for periods of over three months, it turns to be very hard for many people to survive it.

“You must have the ability to make strangers be part of your family or make total strangers feel at home,” she says.

Moshagane shared about the peaceful life of working in the bush saying it is much better than the fast costly city life.

 

Tourism supply chain

One of the most contentious issues about Botswana tourism is where does the tourism money really go? DDS is free to share their revenue chain. In a small boardroom in Maun with seven senior managers of DDS – most of them Batswana including Trainee general manager Setch Twiimone (who started by washing the dishes in their DDS Camp but is now responsible for hundreds of staff members), they shared the tourism supply chain.

According to Walter Smith, one of the directors, “all of our money comes down to FNB Maun” where their accounts are held. He says for a tourist to reach Botswana, there are normally three parties involved who make it possible for the user to reach the Okavango Delta, for instance.

There is the Camp at the bottom of the chain that serves the product - safari experience - then there is the Local Tour Operator who sells the product to the Tourism Operator who acts as wholesaler serving various tourism agencies, be it in New York (paying in dollars), Berlin (paying in euro), or Shanghai (paying in yuan). All these operators in the supply chain will get an agreed percentage share of the tourist’s money for the value they added to get the guest to reach Botswana. But at the end the large share of the revenue goes to the product – safari experience – supplier.

“And for us at DDS, that money comes down to FNB Maun for the benefit of Botswana’s economy,” says Smith.

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