15 August 2017

Botswana: Makgadikgadi Pans - Alternative Tourism Frontier

Sowa Pan — The Makgadikgadi Pans, a vast landscape which used to be part of the ancient inland sea, Lake Makgadikgadi is one of the largest salt pans in the world covering an area of over 30 000 km2.

Makgadikgadi is made up of many pans, the largest being the Sua Pan. During the rainy season, the pan is transformed into a habitat for an array of wildlife and migratory birds including wildebeest, zebras, pelicans and flamingos.

As part of efforts to diversify tourism products and promote domestic tourism, the pans have acquired a significant status as hosts of the annual Race for Rhinos and Makgadikgadi Epic events.

For many years Botswana has focused on the low volume-high cost model of tourism in the pristine biodiversity heartlands of the Okavango Delta.

In an attempt to ease the pressure on the principal tourism sites, the Botswana Tourism Organisation has come up with strategies to reduce demand on wildlife tourism products and venture into aviation and event based tourism activities such as sky diving, airshows and cultural festivals.

This is part of the sustainable tourism efforts and an effort to spread tourism to areas which are far away from the most visited and crowded.

Moving away from the traditional wildlife safari has been identified as one of the ways of giving both domestic and international tourists a multiplicity of activities and experiences, especially eco-tourism.

Over the years the local tourism industry has depended on visitors from traditional tourism markets of North America, Europe and the Far East, however, Botswana Tourism has identified domestic tourists as a potential market for growth.

This has the potential to increase the competitiveness of the country's tourism industry by addressing the challenge of similar products offered by neighbouring countries.

This strategy also has the potential to spread the economic benefits of tourism to different parts of the country rather than having tourists spend only in Chobe and the Okavango Delta.

The staging of adventure tourism activities such as skydiving in the Makgadikgadi area has also come as a blessing in disguise for local communities, as the Nata Bird Sanctuary Trust stands to reap the benefits from the proceeds generated during the event.

Consequently, the hosts of the event, Botash mine are also looking at the air spectacle as a way of diversifying the economy of the town whose economic lifeline has been employment by the mine.

During the just ended Makgadikgadi Epic 2017, thousands of adventure seekers and adrenaline pumped enthusiasts converged on Sua Pan to enjoy the breathtaking, spectacular, scintillating and unbelievable aerial stunts by some of the local and international divers who were taking part in the event.

One could be mistaken that the formations and sequences that were on show in the Makgadikgadi sky came courtesy of digitally enhanced displays.

However, these were individual skills of adrenaline fuelled air junkies doing what they love to do best of their abilities.

This year, BTO outdid itself for the fourth year running when it hosted a spectacular event which kept spectators on their toes for two days.

Despite being forced to relocate its base from the traditional home ground at the Nata Bird Sanctuary due to flooding, BTO ensured that those who attended the event were provided with a humdinger of an air spectacle never witnessed in the Sua Pan, within striking distance of the Botswana Ash mine.

For two fun-filled days, the edges of the pan which is currently teeming with water due to heavy rains this year, were transformed into a buzz of excitement from participants and spectators alike.

Activities which were open to the public included sky diving, quad bikes, mountain bikes, go-karts, horse riding, boat and hovercraft rides, helicopter rides and plenty of musical entertainment.

The serenity transcending the place throughout the year was briefly stolen from the environs, albeit for a good cause, to pit sky diving enthusiasts against each other and also promote the area as a prime tourism destination of repute.

Boasting a huge open space and perfect environment with a hard surface, the choice of the location was fitting.

Many spectators were thrilled by the presence of a large number of activities in an unfamiliar place within the Makgadikgadi Pans.

For their part, photographers and television camera crews had a hectic time trying to position themselves perfectly closer to the landing bays to get the best shots.

From the first day, Sua Pan was teeming with people in their camp chairs and relaxing along the edges of the pan which was reminiscent of a beach.

President Lt Gen. Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama also came to witness the event as the dusty pans roared back to life with spectators marveling at not only the activities, but also the pristine environment that is the Makgadikgadi.

Typical of off-road events, huge four wheel drive cars congregated in the area while the edge of the pan was dotted with tents which turned the whole area into a mini township.

When night fell and the aircraft engines stopped, the aesthetics of the camp were transformed into a well-lit city. A visitor would be mistaken to think it was a permanent abode, only to be amazed in the morning by the sound of waves from the water and the temporary tents that provided the attendees with refuge at the end of a long and exhilarating day.

Food, live music and dance performances were also galore to afford those in attendance the opportunity to relax after a busy day. Spectator viewing points also provided the best views for sky divers as they landed.

The Makgadikgadi Epic 2017 demonstrated that while Botswana's tourism industry has over the years relied on safari tourists in the Okavango Delta, BTO has been aggressive with efforts to develop and market alternative destinations and activities in the central parts of the country to ensure sustainability.

Source : BOPA

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