Youths cry foul as debate rages over Chobe River lodges

Coming soon: The area where the eight lodges are planned PIC: DWNP
Coming soon: The area where the eight lodges are planned PIC: DWNP

Young tourism entrepreneurs in Chobe District say the tender specifications for the planned development of lodges along the Chobe River front, push them out of contention in favour of more established businesspeople.

The youths recently wrote a complaint to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, adding their voices to a heated matter already pitting ecologists against land authorities. Plans by the environment and tourism ministry to open up 240,000sqm of land at the Chobe River front for eight new lodges, stoked sharp debate in Parliament this week, with deputy speaker, Pono Moatlhodi intervening to end discussions.

According to the Expression of Interest document floated for the new lodges, applicants must be 100% citizen-owned companies and consortiums. Companies should have tourism licences that have been in existence for at least the past two years and for consortiums, at least one of their companies should have a tourism licence that has been in existence for two years or more.

This particular condition has upset youth entrepreneurs.

“Our interpretation is that only companies that are operational and own a tourism-related business are favoured or accorded an opportunity to express their interests for the said tourism sites,” reads a complaint filed by Eco Tours director, Othusitse Ranko. “It is our considered view that the above is discriminating to individuals and companies, especially the youth who haven’t had an opportunity before to own and operate tourism-related facilities and who by default won’t have the required tourism licence.”

Ranko further said the licence requirement favoured operating tourism ventures over startups, which were generally sidelined in the industry. He said the requirement should be reviewed in line with President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s promise to give ordinary Batswana equal opportunities in the tourism sector.

“We view the requirement with suspicion that it serves to empower the already existing businesses that already have stakes in the tourism sector against startups that need such golden opportunities to enter the lucrative tourism market,” he said.

On Thursday, Nata-born Ranko told Mmegi the company was yet to receive a response to its letter, although its receipt had been acknowledged by the department.

In Parliament on Wednesday, Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism minister, Philda Kereng parried questions from Maun West MP, Dumelang Saleshando who said the planned lodges would not only harm the environment and further congest the area but were also prohibited under the existing Chobe National Park (CNP) management plan.

Saleshando, who is also the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, also wanted Kereng to confirm that she had received letters of concern from ecologists and state why Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) had not been carried out before the offer to investors.

Kereng said the CNP’s management plan had been updated with technical advice and in fact, showed that up to 11 lodges could be established on the riverfront.

“The sites that could be built there are 11 but we are going for eight because we don’t want high traffic there,” she said. “The limit on beds per lodge is also 75 to reduce the traffic in that area. “There are technical input into the actions we do, as well as site visits to see about the congestion. “We see that the lodges can be done with the distance between them. “In addition, how many lodges are there already, if we talk about congestion?”

Kereng said the winners of the bids would conduct the EIAs into their specific plans for the sites, which would not only individualise the assessments but also ensure that the mitigating plans were tailormade. She said this would also speed up the allocation of the sites to empower Batswana.

The minister also denied Saleshando’s allegation that scientific consultants involved in the updated CNP management plan had raised concerns about the development of new lodges. She said the updated management plan would be unveiled later this month, after some delays.

“On the consultants, if you hire them, can they also raise an objection to what they have done? “We are the custodians of all the documents that they have done and we contracted them. “We have not received any objection from them. “We updated the old management plan because as things develop and more expertise and ability become available, we are able to do these revisions. “We can therefore say, now we can consider adding two or more sites so that government’s plans can be done and this is still with the technical input so that our decisions are based on science,” she said.

The latest developments come after ecologists said the planned lodges were “an absolute and clear threat to wildlife and the primary economic driver,” in the area being the Chobe National Park and the Chobe River.

“The loss of up to eight kilometres of wildlife viewing roads (fenced off lodge sites), and a further eight kilometres 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,” wrote the ecologists. “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!”

Kereng said while the ministry had not yet held meetings over its plans, it had responded to the industry organisation representing operators.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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