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The Chobe River Front (CRF) is one of Botswana’s popular wildlife destinations in Botswana. The Chobe River Front is located at the northern most part of the Chobe National Park running along the Chobe River. The Chobe Riverfront, which is also situated near to Kasane and Victoria Falls, runs along the North-eastern border of the Chobe National Park, is made up of lush flood plains and dense hardwood forests.
It is the most densely populated area of the park because of the vast numbers of wildlife that can be viewed in this one area, The Chobe Riverfront is also the most frequented area of the park. The Chobe Riverfront is a popular destination at all times of year.
The Chobe River flows for 60 km through the park allowing for exceptional game viewing along the river’s edge, both by vehicle and boat. The Chobe River Front attracts massive herds of elephant and buffalo in the dry season, offering photographic tourism opportunities. The Chobe River Front now basks in the status of an increasingly popular destination.
As a result of its tourism value, in early 2022, the Government of Botswana through the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) called for Expression of Interest to operators to establish an additional eight lodges in the Chobe River Front.
The invitation by the DWNP to 100% citizen owned businesses and consortiums to submit expressions of interest for eight (8) new tourism sites along the Chobe River Front (CRF) raised many questions. The DWNP noted that each of the eight new sites will be three (3) hectares in size and successful bidders will be given the right to develop and operate facilities with a minimum of 50 rooms and a maximum of 75 beds at each site.
This call for Expression of Interest raised a lot of concern as conservation groups and tourism stakeholders objected to it because of the ecological value of the Chobe River Front which was assumed would be degraded by additional lodges.
The question that these concerned groups raised include: How many are too many tourists at the CRF? Will tourism here begin to kill the goose that laid the golden egg at the CRF? Will the CRF suffer the spate of negative environmental impacts in early tourism destinations such as Belize, the Galapagos Islands, the Mediterranean coastlands, Greek Islands, Himalayan valleys, and the coast of Kenya.
In the mentioned countries and tourism destinations especially in Belize, the ruling political elites and tourism business gurus created a shadow state hence corruptly enriching themselves by creating laws and opportunities to favour themselves in the tourism industry. The result was the loose of ecological value and ultimately tourism development in these areas.
For the Chobe River Front, it is further worth asking the following questions: Has tourism in the CRF already surpassed some critical environmental and social thresholds? Is tourism endangering the ecological well-being of the CRF? Will tourism kill tourism at the CRF? Management plans for Chobe National Parks and published journal articles and reports point out that the CRF is already congested and does not require additional tourism facilities.
The congestion in the CRF is a threat to biodiversity. This congestion mostly affects the section from Sedudu entrance gate to Serondela picnic site which covers 17 km along the Chobe River. This is the place that attracts game viewing due to its scenic beauty and the abundance of animal population. It is also a section dominated by boating cruises in the Chobe River. The current use of both game drives and boating activities are compromising the environmental sustainability the area.
In 1974, a tourism scholar known as Plog wrote: “tourism contains the seeds of its own destruction, tourism can kill tourism, destroying the very environmental attractions which visitors come to a location to experience”. In 2005, Glasson and others also wrote “tourism is, by its very nature, an agent of change”.
In 1989, Peter Smith was quoted for having said: “Thank God I saw the place (referring to Okavango Delta) 30 years ago before the tourists started coming.” It is from this background that the Chobe River Front needs to be conserved for its ecological and tourism value to benefit future generations.
The Revised Botswana Tourism Policy of 2021 calls for sustainable tourism development in the country, this needs to be applied at the Chobe River Front. Tourism limits at CRF have already been exceeded as observed by the current congestion. Any additional, tourism facilities and activities as proposed by the DWNP are tantamount to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.