At first sight, her petite frame might fool you into thinking that she is vulnerable or docile.
Lily Rakorong, the Chief Executive Officer of the Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB), is a powerhouse who holds an influential position in the tourism sector, as a driver of change and growth.
The Molepolole born Rakorong, who has been at the helm since 2011, says she has always been an inquisitive person, and growing up, she enjoyed doing household chores that led to her love for hospitality.
During her school days, she worked odd jobs at different hotels and at the Gaborone Private Hospital, to make an extra dime and enhance her skills. This experience, Rakorong explains, asserted that she was indeed passionate about pursuing a career in the hospitality industry.
Different people in the sector also inspired her and that her previous jobs as Jimmy Duffy’s Catering Services’ event planner in USA, GICC Manager’s Assistant, Fairground Holdings’ sales executive and HATAB’s public relations and marketing officer, helped prepare her for the position she now holds.
“HATAB deals with advocacy, lobbying, ensuring that its mandate is achieved by promoting an enabling environment for business growth and as the CEO, I steer the ship,” she said.
Rakorong’s passion for the tourism sector started with a visit to HATAB office whilst she was still schooling at Gaborone Secondary School to enquire about what the organisation was about. She is also result oriented, has deep love for her country and she is resilient.
She noted that over the years, there has been an increase in citizen participation in local tourism because there are licences that are reserved for citizens only. These licences include guesthouses and mobile safaris, to mention a few. Rakorong noted that she is happy about this because she wants locals to be empowered as they enter the tourism industry.
Rakorong said the tourism sector offers boundless opportunities that need to be tapped into and developed, noting that there is a misconception that tourism is only about wildlife and wilderness. She also disputed claims that venturing into tourism is an expensive exercise.
“In Botswana, we operate with a model of high value, low impact, this is due to controlled or less movement. HATAB members have citizen rates especially in the Chobe and Okavango areas. Hotels offer membership to locals so that they get discounts on accommodation, meals and related activities. Locals can also enjoy lower rates during off-season,” she explained. Rakorong further said HATAB was faced with challenges such as slow implementations by government, enabling business growth delays progress, access or restricted movement of people in the sector due to lack of road, rail or air access to other parts of the country. “The other recurring challenge is that of failure to extend the lengths of tourists in the country and lack of activities to keep tourists in the country,” she said.
Since assuming her position, Rakorong has managed to do reforms that government put in place to help the industry such as establishment of the point based system, she and other organisations have lobbied government to make better tools of issuance of working and residence permits, developed a catalogue of issues for different ministries that deals with challenges across all ministries and has managed to get amendments made for regulatory frameworks for example the relaxation of parking bay requirements have been reduced.
This has enabled more players especially those from the Small and Medium Enterprise level. There has been increase in HATAB membership and more participation and HATAB is more accessible.
Rakorong added that HATAB is working on a project to improve service delivery across the country, moreso that the industry is service driven and requires better training of workers.