Botswana is experiencing the largest decline in tourism competitiveness of all Southern African countries, a report by the World Bank Group has revealed.
According to the Bank, the decline suggests a level of complacency in a sector with entrenched public and private sector stakeholders and calls for continuously innovating and improving or risk further decline. “Moreover, low rankings for ‘extent of market dominance’ suggest sector domination by a small number of businesses, likely exacerbated by long-term concession frameworks to few operators in protected areas and decreasing pressures for market reform,” says the World Bank says.
However, the report notes, despite dropping in rankings, between 2017 and 2019 Botswana’s place in the World Economic Forum (WEF) Travel and Tourism Competitive Index has remained at 3.5 (on a range of one to seven, with seven being the best), reflecting progress made by others rather than a drop in scores. It says by dropping seven places to 92nd, the decline in Botswana’s tourism competitiveness was most acutely felt in its enabling environment (dropping from 83rd to 99th), infrastructure (89th to 99th), and environmental sustainability (36th to 58th).
Citing inefficient sector governance and high bureaucratic burden for the private sector, the report says competing priorities across government departments render coherent strategy implementation difficult. It says the Department of Tourism and the Botswana Tourism Organisation have indicated interest in shifting from a high-value, low-volume tourism model to a mixed-price, high-volume strategy.
“However, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks has largely adopted a low volume, low-impact approach to visitor management to sustain its conservation mandate, which has created conflicting policy and development priorities,” the report notes. It says existing wildlife operators have tended to prefer this model, which combines a move to diversify toward mid-market, low-impact visitor attraction.
The Bank says the new 2021 Tourism Policy prioritises citizen and community participation, product diversification, domestic tourism, skills development, market intelligence, and increased involvement of local authorities in the development and management of tourism; but with a lack of cohesive government priorities in the sector, implementation is likely to be its biggest challenge.
The report says support from the World Tourism Organisation will go some way in helping to address this challenge, with support in the creation of a National Tourism Development Strategy and Master Plan as well as several destination area plans. The report found that difficulties in coherent strategy implementation also occur at the operational level, with some accommodation, safari vehicle and boat licences awarded independently.
“In Chobe, for example, the Ministry of the Environment and Tourism awards accommodation licences; the Ministry of Transport and Public Works provides vehicle licences; and the Ministry of Lands and Water Affairs holds the same mandate for boats – all without cross-institutional collaboration that makes it easier for private investment to navigate the sector,” the Bank says. Furthermore, it says, the private sector has highlighted heavy regulatory burden and protracted delays in approvals emanating from the Botswana Bureau of Standards, which inhibits investment, refurbishment, and expansion in the sector.
“Together, these governance, coordination, and strategy issues threaten the sector’s long-term competitiveness and attractiveness,” says the World Bank report. Regarding limited investment in and funding for key assets and their communities, the report says limited government budgetary allocations for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks has led to underinvestment in essential facilities.
“This underinvestment is particularly true for the flagship Chobe and Moremi parks, which lack public investment in essential facilities and infrastructure such as access and internal roads, park staff offices, water points, signage, and campgrounds, which is affecting long-term competitiveness by contributing to poorer-quality visitor experience compared with neighbouring country competitors,” the report says. Botswana’s overall tourism growth, as well as the economic development of the northern region, is seen by the industry to be largely dependent on the ability of these key parks to accommodate visitors and thereby sustain the industry.
The report found that funding shortfalls have been exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It says with an almost complete absence of visitors, protected areas have been left without income and are unable to conduct wildlife management tasks such as the maintenance of water points and fire breakers. “Poaching has also increased substantially across all African protected areas, with environmental crimes a large concern for sector stakeholders,” the report says.