GABORONE, Botswana — Botswana reduced its poverty rate from 30.6 percent in 2002 to about 16 percent by 2016. One of the reasons for this massive reduction in poverty is the successful development of the tourism industry. In 2018, Botswana’s Travel and Tourism sector grew by 3.4 percent and reached a total revenue of $2.7 billion up from $313 million in 2000. Safari parks and game reserves are two popular attractions. People from across the world visit the sub-Saharan country to photograph a large variety of wildlife such as lions, giraffes, blue wildebeests and cheetahs. Job growth, reduced poverty and economic development are three positive effects of the growing tourism industry in Botswana.
The Path to Diversification
Since Botswana relied heavily on diamond exports, it was vulnerable to global price changes. About 85 percent of its export revenue is from diamonds. Since the creation of the Botswana Tourism Master Plan in 2000, the country has gradually diversified by focusing on growing the tourism sector. Botswana’s plan to develop the tourism sector worked. In 1998, there were approximately 9,900 jobs in the tourism industry. As of 2018, more than 84,000 jobs are directly tied to tourism, which is almost 10 percent of total employment.
The growing tourism industry in Botswana is tied to popular safari parks and game reserves. Some of the destinations include Chobe National Park, Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the second-largest game reserve in the world. It covers an area larger than the Netherlands.
About 73 percent of visitors to the country are international tourists and 96 percent of visitors are leisure travelers. Gloria Guevara, World Travel and Tourism Council CEO and president, commented on the growth in the 2018 tourism sector: “The country has long grasped the potential of Travel & Tourism to drive economic growth, create jobs and promote social development.”
The giant increase in Botswana’s tourism revenue from 2000 to 2018 comes mainly from safaris and hunting. Hotels and lodges are other areas that provide jobs for locals. About eight national parks and game reserves cover 20 percent of the entire country, so tourism receives high importance in its economy. Eco-tourism, hotels, lodges and restaurants all bring in tourism revenue. Poverty reduction through job creation is evident through various sub-sector areas that provide part of the $2.5 billion received in 2018. These include lodges, restaurants and local crafts sold on the outskirts of game reserves and safari parks.
Protection of sacred land is another task that affects tourism since many Bushmen reside in the protected areas that international tourists visit. The Bushmen or San peoples are thought to be the first inhabitants of what is now called South Africa and Botswana. One negative effect of the thriving tourism industry is the government’s forced relocation of the Bushmen. The Bushmen population is about 55,000 in Botswana.
The government is trying to integrate the Bushmen’s history into the tourism sector. The Kalahari Desert and Tsodilo Hills are two popular destinations that attract international visitors. The Tsodilo Hills include cave paintings from the Bushmen’s ancestors. Botswana offers Bushmen tourism, which includes guided tours from the Bushmen and store selling traditional crafts.
Opportunity for Growth
The Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) was created in June 2006. The TFCA brings the governments of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe together with the private sector and local communities. The objective is to attract new visitors for eco-tourism. The partnership’s goal is to protect the land and make it easier for visitors to travel from one protected region to the next. The growing tourism industry in Botswana is prepared to advance further through the TFCA. It hopes to reduce poverty through job growth and bring in even more than the $2.5 billion in tourism revenue collected in 2018.
– Lucas Schmidt