After the introduction of European trade on wildlife products especially ivory and the establishment of game reserves and national parks in Botswana from the 1960s, came the introduction of a wildlife-based tourism industry in the 1990s. Much of the tourism industry in northern Botswana is nature-based or wildlife-based tourism.
This wildlife-based tourism industry is carried out in national parks, game reserves and other protected areas, containing world-renowned wildlife, biological diversity, and other natural attributes. As a result, northern Botswana is part of the larger geographical network which includes the Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve, the Chobe National Park, Nxai Pan, Mababe Depression, and the Makgadikgadi Pans.
Physical features of northern Botswana include Mababe Depression and Makgadikgadi Pans which are an extension of East African rift valley system. The tourism industry largely relies on wildlife and scenic beauty in areas. The tourism in the northern Botswana rapidly grew after the 1990s. This could be attributed to several factors, namely, the return of political stability in Botswana, the improvement in the global transport and communications systems and the adoption of Botswana’s Tourism Policy of 1990.
The Tourism Policy of 1990 notes Government concerns of wilderness areas. Wilderness areas were noted for being the main tourist attractions in the country but largely attracting casual campers who were in the lower end of the tourist market.
The high paying tourists who stay in permanent accommodation were visiting wilderness areas like the Okavango Delta in small numbers even though they were responsible for most of the tourist revenue in Botswana. In the Tourism Policy, Government in Section 2.2.5 noted: “…the 20 percent occupying permanent accommodation accounted for over 80 percent of the expenditures by tourists in Botswana. The situation with respect to campers was, of course, the inverse: 80 percent of the tourists were campers, but they accounted for less than 20 percent of the total expenditures”.
The concern with backpackers and casual campers is also illustrated in Section 2.2.7 of the policy which states, “Foreign tourists who spend much of their time but little money in Botswana are of little net benefit to the country. Indeed, they are almost certainly a net loss because they crowd the available public facilities such as roads and campsites and cause environmental damage”.
Government’s position was that unless policy changes were made about casual campers, substantial growth in the number of tourists coming to Botswana would probably offer very few if any economic benefits to the country and could cause substantial degradation of the fragile ecology on which tourism depends.
The motive for adopting the Tourism Policy in 1990 was profit-making and the protection of the fragile environment in northern Botswana. During this period, Botswana’s wildlife areas were divided into Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). WMAs were further sub-divided into Controlled Hunting Areas (CHAs).
CHAs are leased to tourism companies for tourism development purposes. Tourism companies use CHAs or concession areas for photographic tourism activities while others use CHAs for trophy hunting activities. The idea of WMAs in Botswana arose from a need for conservation and controlled utilisation of wildlife and other natural resources, along with the desirability of creating better zones between protected areas and human settlement areas.