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The Revised Tourism Policy of 2021 and the Community Based Natural Resources Management Policy of 2007 all call for citizen participation in tourism development.
Communities especially those residing in wildlife areas have responded to this awesome call by government through the establishment of Community Based Organisations otherwise known as Trusts to ensure their participation in tourism development. After almost 30 years in the implementation of the community-based tourism, how much has been achieved in terms of community empowerment, community benefits, conservation, and participation in the tourism industry?
Through the community based Natural Resources Management programme, communities are allocated/leased concession areas otherwise known as Controlled Hunting Areas (CHAs) by Land Boards. In addition, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) allocates a wildlife quota to communities.
As such, the different communities and their Trusts generate revenue from tourism activities being carried out in their concession areas. This revenue is generated through the following: i) land rentals where the concession area (CHAs) is sub-leased out to a safari tourism company to carry out either photographic or trophy hunting activities, ii) selling of wildlife quota to safari hunting company which in turn sell animals to hunters from Europe and America, and in some Trusts develop campsites and lodges.
The dilemma is that Trusts sub-lease or rent out their CHAs to safari companies without knowing the value of the concession area and natural resources. That is, Community-Based Tourism Organisation sell of tourism products without necessarily knowing the economic or tourism value of these products. Trusts also sell the hunting quota without knowing the value of the quota or each animal. This amounts to someone selling their house or vehicle without knowing the market value of this house or vehicle.
This is a tragedy because communities are losing millions of dollars in the process of sub-leasing the CHA or selling a wildlife quota. It’s also a tragedy because community-based tourism is expected to yield maximum benefits to communities. Instead, the reverse is happening since communities derive only an insignificant amount of money or a small fraction of what would otherwise accrue to them if they knew the value of their tourism product and sell it based on its value
The lack of knowledge or business acumen on the part of Trusts about the tourism value of their concessions and wildlife quota makes communities to become victims of big tourism companies which sub-lease their concession areas or buy their wildlife quota for peanuts.
This approach to tourism by communities make communities to have very little to do with the management, monitoring, or practicalities of running a tourism business. That is, instead of being managers or being at the forefront in the development of community-based tourism, communities have become labourers and landlords in their CHAs who are aware that money will come regardless of participation.
In addition, the Board of Trustees have become the rural elite and live a life of its own in very close harmony with the safari operator in their CHA. Some Boards of Trustees members are reported to engage in corrupt practices with safari companies where they are bribed to sub-lease the concession or buy the wildlife quota at insignificant amounts of money or peanuts. We can only hope that one day, communities will know the value of their tourism product and take control of the community-based tourism industry. Honourable Reaboka Mbulawa writes: “Communities have capable sons of the soil to run their own businesses”. He continues to say, “Most of their deals amount to “prostitution” deals than tangible business deals and ventures”. We can only hope that citizen and community participation will one day be achieved in Botswana.