Revamped tourism law to discard ungraded facilities

Staff Writer
The amended Tourism Act will revoke licences of operators who fail to attain at least a one-star grading after one year of assessment, as Government and industry players tighten quality standards and sector competitiveness.

Recently gazetted amendments to the Tourism Act also make the grading of all tourism facilities and operations compulsory, as opposed to the previous regime in which grading was voluntary. Affected facilities include all hotels, lodges, guesthouses, safari operations and other travel and tourism products and services. 

Under the revamped law, all operators are required to approach the Botswana Tourism Organisation to initiate assessment for grading of their facilities and operations.

Should a venture be found to be below the minimum of one star, the operator will be given a year's grace period to comply. Should a further assessment determine that the facility or operation is still below the one star minimum, the Department of Tourism will revoke the operator's licence.

Players in the tourism industry had the first taste of the new Act at Tourism Pitso 2010 that ended in Gaborone yesterday. Officials from BTO, the Department of Tourism and the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism stressed that the new provision was designed to enhance quality in the industry and promote its competitiveness.

"The new provision is designed to enhance the product and service offering that our industry can give to tourists," said the Director of the Department of Tourism, Kelebaone Maselesele.  "You will note that Botswana was recently placed position 89 in the world in a study looking at quality of the tourism sector. We are saying the minimum quality will be one star and that operators should strive to attain that." At the pitso, tourism operators expressed mixed feelings about the new provisions concerning grading. Those falling below the minimum standard said the new Act was "insensitive" to the different target markets and product offerings of various players. "My target is the low-end market who find our product and service offering ideal.

Why should our licence be revoked when we are in a supply/demand relationship with a section of the market?" queried one guesthouse operator. By contrast, the CEO of Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB), Morongoa Ntloedibe-Disele, said her organisation welcomed the new amendments. "We believe that for us to up our service standards, the bare minimum that our facilities should hold is one star," she said. "If we are talking about excellence in service, our standards should speak to that bare minimum of one star. We want repeat visitors and we want our country to have a good reputation." Ntloedibe-Disele said the operators who were complaining were "not HATAB members".

She added: "All of our members are graded one star and above. We encourage those outside the organisation who are ungraded to come forward for membership and we can work with them to at least attain the minimum of one star."

Other participants at the pitso urged the government to consider grading its procurement policies. "The problem is that when we tender for accommodation or conferencing to Government, you will find a four-star facility competing with a one-star facility because there's no standard," said the Managing Director of Phakalane Properties, Lesang Magang.

"Some standard needs to be sorted out for the government as [a] whole to say if there's a permanent secretary or ministry attending, this is the minimum (for their accommodation). It would be unfair for a P90 million facility to compete with a one-star facility for tendering. It's not being protectionist; it's just comparing apples with apples." Presently, Botswana only has one five-star graded facility, the Walmont Ambassador Hotel at the Grand Palm. Two four-star facilities are due to open in August at the new Gaborone CBD and Phakalane.

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