Maun — There is general consensus across the political divide that there is need for more citizen participation based on commentary made by the parties represented at Wednesday's tourism thematic debate.
The debate, which featured six political parties that will participate in this year's general elections, provided an opportunity for all parties to deliberate on their proposed solutions to the sector's challenges ranging from low citizen participation, outdated regulatory framework, revenue leakages and human/wildlife conflict.
Real Alternative Party, represented by the party's founder Mr Gaontebale Mokgosi highlighted that the sector was being controlled by a small group of elites, thus calling for more transparency within the sector.
They posited that concessions and prime land must be taken from the elites and given back to the communities, thus calling for protectionism polices in favour of the communities.
"Tourism sector must be reserved for locals only as joint ventures are bound to fail because foreign investors have a lot of money, therefore have an upper hand over the communities," Mr Mokgosi said.
In addition, the party argues that Batswana who worked in the tourism establishments must hold higher positions and be well remunerated. The Alliance for Progressives (AP) represented by Mr Jacob Mahupe proposed that the sector must create more jobs.
"Our plan is to double the current 26 000 jobs currently being offered by the sector and double the sector's contribution to the country's Gross Domestic Product," he stated.
He said that the party would prioritise infrastructure development, in particular the development of Maun International Airport.
In addition, Mr Mahupe said that they would ensure that there was adherence to set time frames for foreign-held positions within the sector to transfer skills to citizens who are understudying them.
Regarding concession leases, AP is of the view that lease holders should endeavour to partner with Batswana on a 60:40 per cent ratio in favour of citizens.
Meanwhile, Botswana Movement for Democracy represented by Mr Geoff Matlapeng proposed a pragmatic approach to tourism sector and called for start ups that would create unique opportunities for Batswana.
The party proposed a multi-sectoral approach to developing tourism such education through vocational training.
Mr Matlapeng also called for empowered tourism management institutions with decision-making powers.
In addition, he called for beneficiation of marginalised communities.
Umbrella for Democratic Change, which was represented by Mr Dumelang Saleshando highlighted that the sector was being run through outdated and irrelevant tourism regulations and policies.
"We are still using Botswana Tourism Policy of 1990 and Botswana Tourism Master Plan of 2000, which are both out of touch with today's realities," he stated.
He also spoke about high tourism leakages from revenues generated from the sector, resulting in only 45 per cent of revenues remaining in Botswana while 55 per cent was lost to leakages outside the country.
As such, his party proposed to bring new regulations to ensure citizens benefit meaningfully from high value tourism as opposed to current low value tourism activities reserved for Batswana.
Regarding concessions, Mr Saleshando stated that if they win the elections, they would engage those who currently hold the leases to include participation of Batswana, failing which they will lose those leases.
He said UDC believed that communities must be in charge of leases, adding however that community trusts needed to be capacitated and empowered enough to handle such.
Mr Oboetswe Gabotlale representing Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) said his party would revise finance acts, policies and regulations to ensure that money was paid directly to the country to reduce leakages and make it more traceable.
He said BPF acknowledged that the tourism sector was diverse and that revenues did not go directly to the communities.
"We also feel that the sector can have tourism funds that aid citizens who want to enter the industry with capital similar to Youth Development Fund," he noted.
The party also proposed a holistic and cross cutting approach to tourism including various sectors of the economy. Their solutions therefore will be inclusive of all other affected sectors.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) represented by Mr Bagalatia Arone believes that there must be domestic ownership of tourism resources as well as joint ventures with foreigners.
He emphasised that BDP had made a deliberate decision to ensure that citizens benefit from tourism concessions.
He also argued that several tourism regulations and the tourism policy had been reviewed at parliamentary level, therefore were not outdated.
"The 26 000 jobs that have been created in the sector demonstrates our commitment towards employment creation in the sector," he stated.
Mr Arone also revealed that government had made exemptions for several tourism enterprises to continue operating despite expired lease agreements in order to save jobs at these enterprises.
Tourism remains the country's second highest revenue earner despite its myriad of challenges.
<i>Source : BOPA</i>