Kasane — Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism (MENT), Ms Philda Kereng has said COVID-19 Presidential Task Team has approved the ministry's proposal to allow direct chartered international flights to Chobe and Ngamiland effective November 1.
Speaking in a meeting with Chobe chapter of tour operators on October 22, she said the opening was a pilot initiative that would be used to guide the tourism industry towards full opening.
Ms Kereng said while there was keen interest in reopening of boarders, there was need to keep the delicate balance between the economy and health matters, and with Botswana COVID-19 cases currently growing all had to be guided by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
She said COVID-19 had presented a number of challenges to the tourism sector forcing the industry players to rethink on their priorities and what initiatives to start in order to kick start the industry.
She said World Tourism Organisation (WTO) has suggested that domestic tourism was expected to return faster and stronger than international tourism, adding the domestic tourism would help Botswana recover from the impacts of COVID-19, safe guard jobs as well as protect livelihoods.
The minister said it was important for operators to grow domestic tourism base to ensure long term sustainability and growth in the industry.
"The ministry is calling on you to design packages that can be attractive and affordable to Batswana in order to encourage them to travel and see their own country to ensure sustainability of the industry," she said.
She said the ministry had registered concerns of overcrowding in some parts of the Chobe National Park during the independence holidays, and as a result Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) was working on creating additional routes in the park in order to decongest the river front.
She said the ministry had worked on a number of initiatives geared towards supporting the tourism industry among them government wage subsidy for April-June, wage subsidy for freelance guides, chefs and mokoro poolers from MENT, recurrent budget and the Kavango- Zambezi (KAZA) wage subsidy that has been supported by the German government.
Ms Kereng said through the KAZA wage subsidy community trusts in the Chobe, Ngamiland and parts of Makgadikgadi and projects would create alternative livelihoods such as Lake Ngami charcoal, conservation agriculture and poultry for Nata Sanctuary and renovation of old Ngoma Campsite would be funded at a tune of P3.5 million.
MENT permanent secretary, Dr Oduetse Koboto said the Ministry of Health and Wellness was working round the clock to have COVID-19 rapid tests in place before November 1 as a way of easing the arrival of international tourists at Maun and Kasane airports. He explained that the meeting with the tour operators provided a platform to gather their views on how to facilitate the tourism industry.
Dr Koboto said some of the challenges facing the tourism industry was the possibility of stakeholders in hunting considering to defer their activities to 2022. He said government alone could not address the tourism industry challenges hence the need for concerted efforts.
Tour operators' interim chairperson, Mr Mr Brett McDonald of Flame of Africa applauded government for the wage subsidy to save the industry adding that it was an indication that their pleas did not fall on deaf ears.He raised concerns on when the borders would open since neighbouring countries had opened theirs, whether there were sufficient COVID-19 testing centres in Chobe, whether Kasane Primary Hospital had enough resources to handle COVID-19 should borders open and that the travel insurance was likely to become a challenge for tourist since the country was still under the State of Emergency.
Source : BOPA