Officers swoop on 'illegal' Gaborone lodges

Staff Writer
A surprise early morning raid by Tourism department officers and the police yesterday revealed that 13 lodges in Gaborone, among them two popular lodges, have been operating illegally.

Yarona Country Lodge, a fast growing catering, conference and accommodation facility was found to be operating two lodges in Gaborone Phase II and Mogoditshane illegally.  Yarona Country Lodge has three Lodges, two in Mogoditshane and one in Phase II. Two of them were found to be operating without licences.

Another leading accommodation brand, Falcon Crest, was found to be operating an illegal lodge just behind the main one.

After raiding Falcon Crest, Head of Research and Statistics at the Department of Tourism Temalo Lesetlhe told the media the lodge was operating another facility in the backyard without a licence.

Lesetlhe said first she was denied access to the guest book for the illegal lodge, but the book was produced when a police officer accompanying department of Tourism officers demanded to see it.

Initially workers at Falcon Crest informed her that the adjacent facility was not a lodge, but just a home for workers. However, upon touring the facility she saw a full-fledged lodge with guests. The facility is a five-bedroom lodge.

Lesetlhe said illegal operation of guesthouses and lodges deny government revenue, as owners tend to evade tax.

The facility is also situated in a residential area. Lesetlhe further explained that government has been writing letters to Falcon Crest warning them about  the illegal operation of the facility but to no avail.

Among the 13 operators raided yesterday is Abe Mbaakanyi, who runs three guesthouses at Extension 11(five-bedroom), Phase IV (six-bedroom), and Extension IV (six-bedroom).
The combined Department of Tourism and Botswana police blitz is the second of its kind, after the first one conducted last year in Gaborone, Tlokweng, Mogoditshane, and peripheral areas.

In March this year, after consultation with operators of guesthouses and lodges, Tourism Minister, Kitso Mokaila, supported by the Botswana Tourism Board, ordered that all

illegal guesthouse operators must close down.

However at the same meeting, held in the Boipuso Hall, many operators said that it had become difficult to get a licence, forcing many of them to trade without licences.

Abe Mbaakanyi, a representative of a group of small businesses, had argued that after citizens had invested in guesthouses, they were told by the Gaborone City Council (GCC) that licences had been suspended. He said the Ministry of Lands told them to wait until they had completed the general development plan for Gaborone.

Mbaakanyi, who owns three unlicensed lodges, cautioned that if the government does not move fast, many Batswana who can reap big from the World Cup 2010 will lose. Mbaakanyi said that it is lucrative to operate a guesthouse because it is a booming business.

After the February swoop, a media release from the ministry said that following the raids, some of the operators closed shop after they were given written warnings. "Others are operating despite the fact that they do not have a tourist enterprise licence," the release said.

The ministry said the fact that some of them are not licensed implies that they may not be in compliance with the minimum requirements as stipulated in the tourism regulations of 1996.

This could compromise the industry service standards and jeopardise statistical reporting on tourism. The ministry fears that the illegal operators might be in contravention of other laws of Botswana such as the Tax Act and the Town and Country Planning Act.

According to Lesetlhe, many of the illegal guesthouse and lodge operators caught during the February raids were never taken to court but fined P20, 000 each. Asked whether government would go to court this time, Lesetlhe said the matter is now a police case.



And the gladiator found his beloved city in ruins

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