Tourism growth hampered by red tape


KASANE: The country’s tourism industry is constrained by a difficult operating environment despite massive potential to become a top revenue earner, delegates at the recent Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) annual conference heard.

The industry is said to be performing below potential with poor services in hospitality, air transportation and general poor service delivery among the tourism stakeholders.

Several delegates at the conference lamented government’s deep inability to provide an enabling environment for the tourism industry to operate efficiently. It also emerged that government has failed to resolve a catalogue of issues that hinder progress of the tourism industry, some of them dating back from afar as 2011.

HATAB board chairperson, Dr Thapelo Matsheka said at the conference that the catalogue of issues deals with bureaucratic red tape imposed on the industry by various government agencies such as Transport, Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs.

Some policies, particularly those on land banks are facing sheer resistance from the land ministry because they were not properly tailored.

The tourism master plan has also remained unchanged for the last 15 years while the tourism policy has also not been changed in 25 years. The policy and master plan remain less responsive to the needs of the industry, remarked Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis research fellow, Johnson Maiketso. 

Another thorny point raised at the conference was lack of a statistics database since government does not timeously provide the required figures that depict the performance of the industry.  Many delegates insisted that this has hampered planning in the industry as well as adequately assessing the economic contribution of the sector in the industry. It also appeared the government make decisions impulsively without the input of the concerned industry players.

Tour operator, Clive Millar said that lack of consultation by government when key industry decisions are made affected them negatively.  He cited the decision by the Botswana Tourism Organisation to hike prices for the exhibition by 233% without consulting industry players.

“Among other challenges, tourism business owners operate without subsidies from government, though at times they operate in harsh conditions than other businesses; this often impacts negatively on their profits,” he said.  Matsheka bemoaned the poor support rendered to the tourism industry,

“There has to be a way in which government compensate some tourism players because some of them operating in very remote areas are paying the same rate (of) tax as a player who have less operation cost.

Some tourism businesses operating  in very remote areas have set their own power lines and generate water for example, but do not get support from government yet they pay the same tax with that of other businesses operating better conditions. Tourism should be stimulated to do more,” he said.

Tourism currently contributes nearly P6 billion to the national economy and employs over 31000 Batswana.

Matsheka said there is greater opportunity for employment creation in the tourism industry. “Government must act fast and save the tourism industry. In the tourism sector, there is (an) opportunity for further income generation. We are aware that in a number of issues, logic can prevail when addressing certain issues. Dialogue is the key to industry growth,” he said.  The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism (MEWT) Elias Magosi reiterated this view, noting that there is need to change tact in order to address the problems besieging the tourism sector.

“It is important as the ministry to introspect in many of the policies we have and see which ones can enable the industry to grow.

We recognise that tourism is the biggest revenue generator for the country and we want the industry to grow.

Our activities and our actions as well as policies must be consistent with these aspirations,” he said.

Air Botswana general manager, Ben Dehwa, whose organisation is a key tourism stakeholder, asserted that the industry could be improved through intense dialogue.

He added that most challenges in the industry could be solved if all the stakeholders worked together.

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