Gov’t considers immediate opening for US, EU tourists

The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development has suggested opening up the country for tourists from Europe, US and Asia as part of the post COVID-19 pandemic Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP).

The ministry recommends that the opening should be implemented in 2020.

“The [Tourism & Hospitality] sector could look at bringing tourists (with negative COVID-19 status) from, say Europe or North America on direct flights into Maun or Kasane, taking them directly out to bush camps, and keeping them in a ‘bubble’ with minimal interaction with other visitors and social distancing with respect to staff,” proposes the draft plan seen by Mmegi.

The proposal is seen as best suited for Botswana because of its sparse population and current success in controlling the virus. Botswana’s wildlife tourism product attracts high paying visitors from the US, Europe and Asia and it has been hardest hit by COVID-19 international travel restrictions. The country closed the borders for tourists in March to control the spread of the virus.

As of Wednesday, Botswana had recorded 121 cases of coronavirus with 92 being transit patients who were all transferred out. Out of all 29 local cases,

there have been 25 recoveries and one death. There are only three active COVID-19 cases in the country.

In 2018, contribution of travel and tourism to GDP for Botswana was 13.4%.

Other short-term interventions aimed at tourism recovery include the intensified promotion of domestic tourism, the extension of leases and waivers for tourism businesses, relaxing licensing and regulatory requirements for small-scale agro-tourism as well as extending duration of wage subsidies to tourism enterprises beyond three months.

There is also a long-term proposal to diversify the wildlife tourism product by identifying other sites like using dams for tourism purposes.

The government’s tourism and hospitality recommendations come after the Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) had proposed a number of interventions that could assist the sector to stay afloat post COVID-19. HATAB proposed amongst others, “the revalidation of visas on future dates, rather than outright cancellations to reduce hassle costs for customers and avoid the necessity of refunding clients.”