Plans by the Environment and Tourism ministry to open up more than 24 hectares of land at the Chobe River front for eight new lodges, have sparked objections from ecologists who say the new developments would negatively impact wildlife and the attractiveness of the prime area.
The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism has invited 100% citizen owned businesses and consortiums to submit expressions of interest for eight new tourism sites along the Chobe River front, with a closing date due on March 21.
Each of the eight new sites will be three hectares in size and successful bidders will be given the right to develop and operate facilities with a maximum of 50 rooms and a maximum of 75 beds at each site. The Chobe River front, located with the Chobe National Park, is one of the country’s most sought after stretches of real estate, being located in a wildlife rich, water-driven tourism haven with views across to Namibia.
A group calling itself the Concerned Stakeholders Chobe District has written to the Ministry, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife as well as other authorities pushing back against the planned developments on the river front.
“We believe that eight lodges situated in areas that see huge volumes of wildlife traffic and which currently forms a core attraction for safari tourism (and by association all the spin off benefits of that attraction) is an absolute and clear threat to wildlife and our primary economic driver,” reads the letter dated March 7 and seen by Mmegi this week.
“Wildlife corridors will be impinged and human-wildlife conflict will increase necessitating mitigations like fences.
“Wildlife behaviour will be negatively affected leading to increases in dangerous encounters.”
The concerned stakeholders continue: “The loss of up to 8km of wildlife viewing roads (fenced off lodge sites), and a further 8km of interrupted wildlife corridors, in a park with an already limited road network will further degrade the tourists’ wildlife experience that is already under severe crowding pressure.
“The impact of increasing an already high traffic volume by an estimated minimum of 50 game viewing vehicles will be devastating to the quality of the tourist experience and will certainly change wildlife behaviour and distribution.
“It is our opinion that no amount of mitigating measures can be undertaken to offset the disastrous impact that ONE riverfront lodge would have on the Primary Economic Driver, let alone EIGHT!”
According to the Ministry’s invitation for expressions of interest, the eight lodges will occupy a total of 240,000 square metres of land, a number the concerned stakeholders say is an under-estimate.
“Any entity that has built a lodge in a wildlife area will attest to the amount of space required to develop the establishment,” the letter of objections reads.
“Workshops, solar farms, staff quarters, wastewater plants, and miscellaneous support infrastructure consumes a lot more space than 30 rooms and tourist communal areas.
“Three hectares (30,000m²) is ridiculously insufficient.
“As the sites are bounded by the main road to south and annually flooded plains to the north, expansion can only occur laterally east and west, consuming more river frontage.”
The concerned stakeholders also say the planned developments will increase deforestation, cause higher pollution and cause over-saturation of Kasane with tourism developments.
“There has been an explosion of new hotels, lodges, B&B’s, guesthouses etc within the Kasane/Kazungula development zone, and Chobe Enclave, with construction projects ongoing for even more large establishments.
“Like any commodity there is a point where the market becomes saturated, and Chobe may very well have exceeded that point already.”
The concerned stakeholders also say the establishment of lodges along the Chobe River front was specifically ruled out by previous Chobe National Park management plans. Mmegi has established that the updated Chobe National Park management plan was due to be launched this week. The plan’s unveiling has been postponed to March 29.
Members of the concerned stakeholders said they had not had any response to their objections from authorities thus far and had forwarded their grievances to the Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB).
Yesterday, HATAB spokesperson, Tebogo Ramakgathi told Mmegi the association was due to engage with the Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism minister, Philda Kereng on the matter.
“We confirm as HATAB that we have received grievances from our members regarding the proposed Chobe River front EOIs,” Ramakgathi said.
“We have written to Minister Kereng last week Tuesday asking for an urgent meeting regarding this matter.
“We are still waiting for her response to date.”
Chobe Land Board spokesperson, Ndiye Frank Joel told Mmegi the letter from the concerned stakeholders had been received, but said further questions would be answered by the board secretary, who had not reverted with clarifications by Press time.
In Parliament on Wednesday, Kereng touched on the Chobe River front matter, noting that it was part of a range of initiatives by government to empower citizens into tourism. She revealed that 41 tourism concessions are being set aside in Kasane and Kazungula strictly for citizen economic empowerment. It was not immediately clear whether the Chobe River front leases are part of the 41 concessions. Other plans include 100% citizen reservations for tourism activities at Shashe, Letsibogo and Thune dams as well as reservations for camp sites.
“We want to increase the participation of Batswana in tourism, such as in Chobe National Park where we are opening concessions or space for them to get into,” she said.
“Similar plans will take place in the Okavango Delta, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and other national parks and we will be running these programmes at the same time to help increase citizen participation.”