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Coronavirus Impedes Tourism Sector Ahead Of Peak Season

MBONGENI MGUNI
Hospitality and Tourism of Botswana HATAB CEO Lily Rakorong PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
The outbreak and rapid spread of the deadly coronavirus is playing havoc with the local tourism and hospitality industry, which is experiencing cancellations and low arrivals ahead of its upcoming peak season.

The local industry’s season peaks between May to October as the lack of rainfall means higher sightings of animals due to sparse surroundings. During these dry months, the animals congregate at the available waterholes in large numbers making viewing easier.

In addition, the minimal rainfall during these months allows safari vehicles to better traverse the bushes, as opposed to the wet season where the dirt terrain can become impossible to negotiate.

Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) CEO, Lily Rakorong said players in the industry were facing difficult times as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The disease has resulted in lockdowns of cities and travel restrictions in key source markets for local tourism such as Europe and China.

“We have already started experiencing cancellations, even for this period we are in,” Rakorong told Business Monitor during a media briefing on Wednedsay.

“The first quarter of the year is usually slow, but we are not certain what will happen when we get to the peak.

“Arrivals at local hotels, lodges, mobile safaris, tour operators and others have all declined.

“We are yet to quantify where we are in the short-term or the near future in terms of the impact of this epidemic.”Rakorong separately said while the local tourism had proved resilient during other crises such as Ebola and global economic downturns, the coronavirus outbreak presented a unique

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challenge.

 

“During periods of downturns and even during conflict in our markets around the world, travel still occurred and sometimes people prioritised where they would travel.

“With this epidemic, people are simply not travelling and tourism is intertwined with travel,” she said.

 

The HATAB boss revealed that the national airline, Air Botswana was also reporting a 20% drop in the international passenger movements. The airline’s spokesperson, Kefilwe Kebafetotse said Air Botswana expected to take a hit from lower passenger numbers, ‘as with other airlines’.

“Air Botswana anticipates adverse impact, given its feeder status and reliance on other airlines,” she said in a statement.

“In view of the depressed passenger travel patterns, the airline’s schedule has been modified to reflect the impact of he pandemic, in line with the low business activity that is currently being observed.”

Health ministry officials have revealed that from January 31 when the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” Botswana had screened more than 200,000 arrivals, picking 16 suspected cases and clearing 14 of these. The results for two international travellers are currently awaited.

Cabinet is expected to soon announce a list of countries whose citizens will be required to self-quarantine for at least 14 days upon arrival in Botswana. The move, while key to preventing the disease’s spread, is expected to severely dampen tourism.

 



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