Although there are several tourism attractions and products in Botswana, wildlife-based tourism remains the main tourism sector in Botswana. The wildlife-based tourism industry in Botswana owes its existence to the floods and natural environment that characterises the Okavango River Delta, Chobe River and the Makgadikgadi Salt pans.
As a result, there is need to promote the conservation of natural resources in northern Botswana including wildlife resources due to the critical role wildlife plays to the economy of Ngamiland, Chobe, Boteti, and Botswana as a whole.
The tourism industry in Botswana has experienced an expansion since the 1990s. This was after the adoption of the Wildlife Conservation Policy of 1986 and the Tourism Policy of 1990. The tourism industry is Botswana’s second largest foreign exchange earner, after diamond mining, contributing about 5.0% to Gross Domestic Product. Botswana’s tourism industry largely remains wildlife-based and is carried out in the northern parts of the country, especially in the Okavango and Chobe regions. As a result, Botswana’s tourism industry has been focused on consumptive and non-consumptive forms of tourism in its decades of development.
Botswana’s tourism policy acknowledges that wildlife has value, not only for its aesthetic value, but also for the economic returns it could earn and guidelines were designed. These included drastically (i) increasing financial returns from wildlife, initially through sport hunting, but later through more conventional forms of tourism, (ii) creating large areas of land to form wildlife reservoirs to provide an annual spill-over into surrounding areas for all forms of hunting, (iii) such areas needed to be protected from agricultural expansion, protecting a cross-section of all habitats and ecosystems and geological formations, (iv) protecting suitably large areas with necessary types of habitats for the preservation of all existing wildlife species, (v) developing areas listed above to take into account the need to conserve wildlife but also to provide facilities both for inviolate wilderness conservation and for all forms of tourism and (vi) to preserve areas of historic and cultural value.
Tourism development in Botswana has facilitated several opportunities for local communities and has contributed to the country’s economy. Tourism has stimulated the development of a variety of allied infrastructure and facilities, such as hotels, lodges and camps, airport and airstrips. Through its backward linkages, wholesale and retail businesses have also been established to offer various goods to the tourist industry.
Tarred roads and other communication facilities have also been developed in Botswana. The tourism sector has also facilitated the creation of employment, local economic development and poverty alleviation, and contribution to biodiversity conservation efforts. These were facilitated by measures that have been put in place such as the adoption of policies and community participation models of development that created an enabling environment for tourism to develop and become one of the country’s main economic drivers.
On the other hand, the tourism industry continues to face such as the enclave nature of tourism, lack of tourism product diversification, community businesses misappropriation and mismanagement of funds, and lack of relevant community’s marketing and promotional tools.
Finally, it can be concluded that tourism development in Botswana offers both opportunities and challenges. The Botswana Government’s approach to natural resources management is also evolving, with communities being recognized as relevant custodians in biodiversity conservation through their engagement in nature-based tourism enterprises. While communities gain economic benefits through participation in nature-based tourism, environmental awareness and conservation is promoted since communities can easily see the link between tourism development and biodiversity conservation.