Tourism Growth In Botswana After COVID-19

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Recently, the Government of Botswana announced that it is no longer a requirement that people in Botswana should wear face masks and that COVID-19 vaccination certificate, PCR tests no longer a requirement for people entering Botswana.

This was received with excitement and gratitude in Botswana including those in the tourism industry. While this is the case, what does it mean to Botswana’s tourism industry and conservation. To address and respond to this question, it is critical to understand the state of tourism development and growth in Botswana prior to COVID-19. This understanding will make us understand if there will be tourism growth in Botswana in the next few years and how this will affect conservation especially in northern Botswana where tourism is wildlife or nature-based,

In the past two decades before COVID-19, tourism in Botswana had grown to become a key growth sector of the country’s economy, accounting for 5% of GDP in 2019 (8% including indirect spending) and providing (directly and indirectly) some 70,800 jobs in 2019, many of them in rural areas where job opportunities are scarce. Botswana’s natural and tourism resources, its core tourism attraction, are exceptional and include two UNESCO World Heritage Sites (the Okavango Delta and the Tsodilo Hills). The Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve, Chobe National Park, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, and the Northern Tuli Game Reserve are amongst Africa’s richest and most biodiverse wildlife areas, attracting visitors from around the world.

Statistics in Botswana clearly illustrate tourism’s value both in terms of its economic contribution and as a creator of employment in Botswana. Although international tourist arrivals declined from 1,973,000 in 2010 to 1,654,638 in 2018, growth had resumed by 2019 with international receipts reaching USD1,100.3MN (representing 16.1% of total exports). However, the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and its consequent travel restrictions brought international tourism to an abrupt halt. As a result, the COVID-19 pandemic had a widespread economic impact across the sector not only in Botswana but around the world.

In Africa, international tourist arrivals fell by 76% in 2020 to 16 million arrivals (compared to 68 million in 2019).  However, there was small growth in 2021, of 12.5% to 18 million. Despite this, domestic tourism appears to have increased quite strongly because of the ban on foreign travel, bringing a small measure of relief to some businesses across the region. For the first time, rates and fees paid for visiting tourism facilities in the Okavango Delta were very low affording a significant number of citizens to visit this prime tourism destination area.

In 2022, especially after the announcement by the Ministry of Health that visitors and people in Botswana are no longer required to wear face masks, COVID-19 vaccination certificate and PCR tests are no longer a requirement for entering Botswana, there is no doubt that tourism in Botswana will expand.

However, some sceptics note that it may be a long time before international tourism returns to its previous pattern of constant uninterrupted growth. Despite this scepticism, early signs indicate residual demand for high-end safari experiences in Botswana. In addition, business tourism has started on its upward growth in Botswana. For example, its has become a tradition in the last half of 2022 that hotels in Maun, Kasane and Gaborone are often fully booked due to business tourism

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