Tourism is one of the sectors mostly affected by the outbreak of COVID 19 globally, Botswana is no exception but the virus has borne much brunt on professional guides who have been working on temporary basis after international tourist cancels their bookings.
More than 200 professional guides operating in Chobe district which is mostly depend on tourism activities such as boat cruising, game drives and bush walk have been left in lurch after tourist cancels their booking.
Professional guides decry that most of them who were working on temporary basis to render services to different safari companies have been affected as they now sit in their homes without any income to support their families.
Katjaerua Mohinde a freelance professional guide who has more than 30 years in the profession says that most of them have deal a heavy blow after tourists cancel their bookings which have eroded their income.
Mohinde highlighted that as professional freelance guides, just like any permanently employed safari guides, freelancers are also in the fore front role as far as tourism industry is concerned. He added that the only difference is that they are not permanently employed and they don't work with a single company, they are called in when their services are needed mainly during peak seasons which runs from May up to September.
"We don't have a monthly income, we do get paid after rendering services to our guests in a form of boat cruise, game drives, nature walks as well as hosting and entertaining our well respected guests," he said adding that they spend most of their time with guests as compared to their employer in the tourism sector.
Mohinde further stressed that with the money they usually get from the busy season, they make sure it helps them through the low season but decries that with COVID 19 they are left helpless more especially that they are coming from a low season to what could be a busy season. They are calling for the government assist them through the government relief fund since they don't have any company to assist them in difficult time like this.
He also stated that they have raised their complains to the Chobe District Commissioner to assist them but nothing positive have come out after engaging the district commissioner to assist them. "We have tried to engage the DC nothing has come out, we need help," pleaded Mohinde
Mohinde who have worked for reputable companies such as Desert and Safaris, Key Downey and others says that on a monthly basis, they usually make more than P22 000 monthlies but now since the outbreak of coronavirus they don't have any food or any income.
He also decried that most of the companies have benefited from the relief fund but only them who have not benefit. 'We understand that the government will not pay us the money we need but they have to assist us with any assistance as we will highly appreciate,' he said
Botswana Guides Association (BOGA), a nonprofit making NGO which advocates for tour guides and mobile safaris has last week written a letter to the Minister of finance and Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka requesting the office to assist freelance guides and freelance polers with wage subsidy in order to improve their standard of living.
The chairman of BOGA, Kenson Kgaga in the letter stressed that they are aware that due to COVID 19, most industries have been affected especially the tourism industry in which majority of this guides depended on safari companies whereby they employed them on temporary basis in order to earn the money for a living but these companies have closed for operations and there is nothing that they are earning.
The letter further stated that therefore request the office to assist these people as they have discovered that they were not considered when implementing wage subsidies for the affected people. "This has been discovered when BURS started to provide wage subsidies as we believe that the money are from employee's tax but have been designed in a such way that it assists all people affected by COVID 19," reads the letter
It also stresses that freelance guides, polers and chefs have not been included in these subsidies due to their status of being unable to pay tax due to low wages but they believe that this is the same as bed levy in which it assists everyone regardless of their status.
The Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Dr Oduetse Koboto when addressing about his ministry last week acknowledged that they are aware of the situation and also assures that the ministry is working with relevant stakeholders to address the matter so that the affected people could be assisted.