Exclusive Interview: Botswana’s Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama II
Botswana is under the spotlight this year at ITB Berlin as the official Partner Country – an opportunity to demonstrate all the riches of the nation to the world’s tourism professionals. We asked the country’s Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama II just how important this action is for the country’s tourism industry…
Botswana felt that in our 50th year of independence it would be ideal to partner with ITB Berlin, who also celebrated their 50th anniversary. Bringing Botswana to the forefront of the international travel market has been essential to our local tourism industry as it has taken the awareness of the country as a destination to a new level. As the first sub-Saharan country to partner with ITB, this event has further highlighted the dedication Botswana has to ensuring that tourism and conservation are on the world stage.
What is the importance of tourism as part of your national economy?
Botswana has relied on diamonds to produce the wealth and development necessary to move from one of the poorest countries in the world in 1966, to an economically thriving middle income economy. Today, the country needs to look to the future of a national economy based on what is available above the ground. As the second largest contributor to the national economy, tourism, is ideally poised to continue to grow the economy. As an economic diversification driver, tourism is able to create sustainable growth and employment for communities whilst maintaining the ecological balance.
What are the latest tourism figures, what are your main source markets and how are these evolving?
Currently, our source markets are dominated by established markets such as the US, UK and Europe. As these markets continue to grow, they are tending to evolving towards a more exclusive, experiential driven tourism proposition, evolving with ecotourism, adventure and cultural products to compliment the wildlife offering and cater for this tourism at all levels of the value chain. At the same time, new markets for Botswana are being developed such as the Middle East, the BRICS economies and Australia. For the most part, destination awareness and the driving force of the wildlife product are proving to attract these new markets.
How is tourism infrastructure evolving in Botswana?
The tourism infrastructure is evolving due to 1. Product development, 2. Regional diversification, and 3. Community development with protected wildlife areas. As the tourism product evolves from just an armchair safari, infrastructural development is key to ensure that complementary product is made available. New propositions are being developed through public pr ivate par tnerships such as in Gchwihaba Caves, Tsodilo Hills and Nata Bird sanctuary which will feature more experience driven tourism. Although development of infrastructure is important to growth in the industry, this development is guided by the sustainability and environmental impact of this growth. Therefore, infrastructural planning under my ministry takes place generally outside existing tourism hubs like the Okavango Delta and into diverse areas, such as ex hunting concessions and non-traditional tourism or conservation areas. This driver of growth outside of traditional tourism areas ensures that the third point of community development is ensured, tourism infrastructure will provide opportunities for employment in outlying communities.
What would you say are the three key “USP’s of Botswana as a destination?
The pristine wildlife offering will always be Botswana’s primary USP, with the Okavango Delta being possibly one of the last remaining Sanctuaries for Endangered and non- Endangered species alike. As home to the largest population of savannah elephants in the world, the only increasing rhino population, a third of the global wild dog and cheetah populations, Botswana is a wildlife enthusiast’s paradise. The standard set to limiting impact within these protected areas also ensures that these experiences are enjoyed one on one with the animals. Botswana is the only country in the region that has totally banned trophy hunting. The hunting ban and the governments successful conservation policies in collaboration with the private sector, NGOs and the local communities formed part of the judging criteria for WTTC’s Tourism for Tomorrow Award, of which Botswana is a finalist Hall 4.1 / Stand 200