Whether it is a perception or reality that tourism industry is a no-go area for Batswana, a local entrepreneur Reaoboka Mbulawa has defied all odds and managed to penetrate the hospitality industry.
He is one of the few locals operating camps in Makgadikgadi Salt pans and the Okavango Delta.
Trading under the SKL Group, Mbulawa operates Camp Savuti, Camp Linyanti, Camp Khwai, Camp Kumaga and the Maun-based Crocodile Camp Safari and Spa.
The 42-bedroomed Crocodile Camp Safari and Spa offers game drives, mokoro excursions, day trips to Moremi, and scenery flights amongst others. The safari lodge caters for everyone from low, medium and high segments. It has conference facilities, entertainment areas, three honey moon suites, 10 family rooms, 12 executives, standard and deluxe rooms.
Narrating his journey to Monitor Business, a Bachelors Degree in Humanities and Environmental Science graduate, Mbulawa said it all started while working as a park manager in Savuti.
“My passion started then as I got exposed to the industry, from Savuti I worked as a CEO at a local lodge until one day when government advertised a tender for public camp sites,” he explained.
Mbulawa jumped at the opportunity and success came knocking after he was given a five-year lease to operate a camp. With no financing, he managed to develop his empire to five camps now.
“We started in October 2009 in Savuti and did everything from our pockets because we were given the short lease which means we cannot have a title deed and without it, it’s not easy
Unlike his competitors, Mbulawa said his half camp and half lodge model has worked wonders for his business as it accommodates almost everyone. Marketing has also been instrumental in his success as he always ensures that a large chunk is reserved for it.
Mbulawa said he has been able to penetrate the industry as he has a huge budget for marketing. He always attends all international tourism expos and has agents in the USA, Asia and Europe.
“We go all out when it comes to marketing our business, mostly at international expos like the ITC Berlin, USA, South Africa and any other show that we believe can bring input to our business,” he said.
Currently, they employ about 200 people across all their properties and most of their clientele is made up of 75% international and 25% local.
On the challenges in the industry, Mbulawa believes foreigners are given a competitive edge over locals as they are given 30-year leases unlike locals who get measly five-year leases. In addition he noted that running costs both in the Delta and pans are expensive.
“Government needs to come to party regarding the issuing of leases and consider giving the locals the same treatment as foreigners as running costs in the delta are unsustainable,” he said.