Development in Maun has to start in 2020

It was 2006 when I first visited Maun, it was my first time visiting Botswana. All I knew about Botswana was what I had been told by my wife. I didn’t search Google or try to do any research beforehand because I wanted to experience everything with fresh eyes. We were here on holiday from the UK and only stayed in Gaborone for 2 days, the rest of the 2 weeks was spent in Maun. The interesting thing about Maun is I wasn’t just a tourist, my wife is from Maun and most of her immediate family live there, so I got to experience Maun as both a tourist and a local.

We visited Maun on holiday again in 2008 and again in 2013 shortly after we arrived in Gaborone having relocated to Botswana. We seem to visit Maun every couple of years, normally over the festive season. The Maun I saw in 2006 is pretty much the same Maun I last visited in 2018… very little has changed. In comparison, Gaborone has changed a lot, especially the business districts. The capital city is developing rapidly and yet the gateway to the country’s main attraction remains untouched. I don’t understand why.

I love Maun, it’s a completely different environment to Gaborone and there’s a tranquillity in Maun that touches my heart. Every time I go there I always find myself wondering whether I should consider moving to Maun, but then reality hits me and I know life in Maun would eventually drive me crazy. It kills me to say it, but as beautiful as Maun is, it has its limitations.

Maun is a town, but it’s not much different to a village really. When you walk around Maun and eat at the various establishments, you see what the town is all about… tourism. You won’t see many folk in suits, but rather people in safari attire – tour guides, pilots and other people linked to the safari industry. It’s no surprise given Maun is THE place for tourism in Botswana.

But the action happens in the Okavango Delta with Maun serving as the welcome mat. I believe Maun is seriously under utilised. There’s an influx of travellers passing through the airport year on year, but it’s a drop-off and pick up point before they fly into the Delta. But why are there no efforts being made to capitalise on this opportunity, which is being served up on a platter? There’s a captive audience in a prime location, high volume of travellers guaranteed every single year and yet there’s no real attempt to capitalise on all these people with money in their pockets. It’s absolutely ludicrous.

It’s surprising just how little there is for tourists to do with time to kill. Admittedly, there are a few curio shops directly opposite the entrance, but for the most part, they sell the same things. There used to be a café/bar/restaurant opposite the airport, originally ‘Bon Arrivée’ and then ‘Capello’ which have closed. I don’t know if anything is there now. There’s another restaurant near the airport’s entrance, but it’s so hidden, I imagine most tourists have no idea it’s there. Why are the airport and the outside areas so desolate? Normally businesses struggle to compete and attract customers, but in Maun, it’s not a case of ‘if you build it, they will come’ because ‘they’ are already there. 

I don’t even know how Maun Airport copes with all this traffic. As it stands, the main area of the airport is no larger than a tennis court, there are no eateries or cafés (there wasn’t when I was last there), no lounges or adequate seating (inside or outside). The entrance is cluttered with travellers and drivers for the various lodges, there’s literally no room to swing a cat. 

How can both airports in Gaborone and Kasane be rebuilt, yet Maun Airport hasn’t had so much as a lick of paint? This is arguably the busiest airport in Botswana, reportedly the second busiest in Southern Africa and yet it remains undeveloped?! Surely improving the airport will alleviate the pressure on what must be a stressful environment during peak seasons. Any development should also include the area surrounding the airport, since this would benefit both tourists and residents, creating jobs and attractions.

Maun needs to be a top priority in 2020 where development in Botswana is concerned. As I say, it’s not just for the sake of tourism, but for the people of Maun. If Maun is the gateway to the Okavango Delta, then that gateway is currently reminiscent of one of those old, tired-looking wooden bridges you see in movies. It’s not much of a gateway if the truth be told and, speaking from a foreigner’s point-of-view, it’s not representative of a true Botswana. It actually doesn’t reflect well on Botswana.

I’ve mentioned before in another post about the average Westerner’s perception of Africa being one of poverty. This perception may be the case across Africa and there is poverty in Botswana, but that’s not the full picture. Opportunities in Botswana can be limited, but all these tourists are the key to changing that. Maun needs developing, Maun needs its economy boosting, Maun needs to be reborn.

This isn’t just my opinion. Almost everyone I speak to regarding this topic echoes the same opinions and are equally baffled as to why the town remains untouched. I read an interview in The Patriot with the new Chairman of the North West District Council, Kebareeditse Ntsogotho, who also feels Maun is not the tourism hub it could and should be. Below are some of his comments.

“Botswana’s gateway to the prestigious Okavango Delta, Maun, is not appeasing (sic) to international tourists and the village, therefore, needs a serious upgrade to match a tourism hub of note.”

“…a lot is not being done in terms of coming up with initiatives that will help attract incoming tourists to stay in Maun, make them enjoy and spend more of their revenue in the village.”

“…most international tourists pass through Maun to connect to the Okavango Delta and other tourism attractions, they rarely spend time in the village because it has nothing to offer them.”

“…Maun does not have a proper advanced shopping mall of which the residents can point and be proud of.”

The airport and the immediate surrounding area

I don’t care what anybody says, if you want travellers to extend their stay or deviate away from their normal plans, they will if you give them something to visit, something to experience. Most people who travel overseas want to compare and contrast with their own day-to-day lives, as well as to enjoy new experiences. Most of the tourists in the Delta are wealthy people from modern societies – they shop! Of course, they don’t go into the Delta to shop, but build a retail environment near the airport and watch them spend.

We have Airport Junction Mall in Gaborone just down the road from SSK Airport, why can’t there be an Airport Junction a short stroll from Maun Airport? There should be a number of modern malls in Maun, to be honest, but certainly next to the airport. Why this hasn’t already been addressed beggars belief. Maun is a forgotten town in many ways. You can see elements of modern establishments cropping up in areas like Old Mall (the likes of KFC, Nandos), but they look a bit odd because they’re surrounded by old and tired structures… it just doesn’t look right. 

I’m sure there’s a large percentage of tourists who also pass through Maun wondering why the airport has never been developed. It can give the impression Batswana or local folk don’t want change, don’t want an improved airport and I don’t believe that is the case. The longer the airport remains untouched, the longer I think it’s lunacy.

Building a modern airport would be the starting point of serious developments. It’s like building a football stadium and I’ve seen it first hand. When a new stadium was built in my hometown the surrounding areas developed rapidly. A large retail park was developed, business parks, hotels, residential areas all appeared in an area where there used to be nothing. These developments were introduced by the private sector and in Maun, you’ll most likely find foreign investors will start to take more interest in Maun and these commercially viable opportunities.

Maun Airport. Photo credit – Anton Ivanov (123RF)

Above is Maun Airport and below are other international airports in Africa that are popular tourist destinations. You can see the scale of these airports in comparison to Maun International Airport. Although, I should highlight the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport is a mock up image taken from article in which Ethiopian Airlines Group disclosed that the first phase of the airport’s expansion was expected to go operational by the end of June 2018.

First and foremost, Maun Airport has to be rebuilt and upgraded. Talks of extending and rebuilding the airport were happening back in 2006 – over a decade later and nothing has changed. Why? In 2017 there were talks about revamping the Maun Educational Park to attract tourist, but as far I’m aware, nothing has happened. Why?

The airport is key, most modern airports are a haven for travellers and shoppers, they’re like malls with planes. A rebuilt, bigger and better Maun Airport could have hotels within walking distance or a short shuttle bus ride away. I’m not suggesting hotels that will drive people away from the lodges, but for travellers in transit or people on quick stop-overs. When we flew from the UK to Botswana, we had to stop over at O.R. Tambo in Johannesburg. We arrived late in the evening and our Air Botswana flight wasn’t available until the next morning, so we booked into the Protea Hotel within the airport so we could have a shower, freshen up and have a nap.

In the UK, there are a variety of hotel brands ranging from 5-star (fit for royalty) and the budget bed and breakfast establishments. But there’s two types of hotel chains that could be the perfect benchmark for a new Maun Airport. Travelodge and Premier Inn are similar hotels but target different markets. Premier Inn is an affordable hotel offering the various styles of rooms, provides room service and a restaurant for breakfast and dinner. Travelodge is different in that you just have a room; all rooms are the same and there’s no room service, often there’s no restaurant… just a bedroom, table, chair and a bathroom. 

Travelodge is aimed at those not just on a budget, but people who just want a bed for the night. In terms of a Travelodge style hotel at Maun Airport, it would be perfect for those wishing to rest, take a nap, have a shower, catch up with email in peace, store their luggage or actually require a bed for a night. I’ve also thought, if Air Botswana flights were more affordable, people in areas such as Gabs would consider opening businesses in Maun. Cheaper flights mean more frequent travel and a Travelodge style hotel means affordable ‘no thrills’ overnight accommodation.

I wouldn’t demolish the existing airport but rather keep it as a monument. Its interior could be improved and redecorated, but could become a food hall or a museum for aviation or even a space for curio and souvenir shops. It’s important to keep some things because heritage is important and heritage interests tourists. 

Maun is the centre of tourism and so it could be the location for Botswana Tourism’s head office. It could even have a larger base for the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism and possibly the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs, which would require more accommodation and development in Maun. 

An improved and developing Maun could be a holiday destination for Batswana. So many people in Botswana travel outside of the country for their holidays, which is fine. I feel people should travel and experience new things, but some may decide to spend extended weekends (especially over shorter holiday periods and public holidays) in Maun. 

Beyond the airport

The airport would be the first step, but the developments should also spread across Maun. For example, any mall built near the airport would naturally attract the likes of KFC and Nandos away from Old Mall. But I don’t see that as a bad thing because Old Mall could become a large cultural market. An area that offers local farmers a permeant stall to sell their fresh produce and other homegrown treats, bakers baking fresh bread, cakes, etc. Tourists like to sample local cuisines, just as long as the establishments are clean and hygienic. Old Mall could have a variety of stalls selling all kinds of local products… as well as other world foods for the locals too.

St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, Canada – named the best food market of the world by National Geographic in 2012. Photo by Kiril Strax
Mercado Central de Santiago, Chile

This type of development promotes cultural tourism. In many parts of the world, you find such markets are incredibly popular and attract all kinds of visitors. In some countries with a reasonable population of Chinese residents, there can be Chinatowns. A Chinatown is an ethnic enclave of Chinese people most often located in urban settings and exists throughout almost every continent. These towns are very popular as you can experience an entirely new culture in your own country.  

I would also look to develop the Nhabe Museum, so it could become one of the largest in the country. I did mention previously that tourists appreciate heritage and they do visit museums and monuments. Maun itself has a wealth of history, but so do the surrounding areas (the Delta, Tsodilo Hills), there are also artists and all kinds of creatives. Nhabe would have permanent exhibitions and would attract masses of visitors every year.

Not far from the Old Mall is the bus station and this can be expanded, so it reflects a proper bus station with signage and display screens for timetables. Obviously, if you want tourists to explore, public transport needs to be improved, be safe and reliable, although transport is another topic completely. A central taxi rank could also be a feature at Old Mall and at the airport.

These are all ideas off the top of my head, I’m sure in-depth research would unearth some truly amazing ideas in order to develop Maun, boost its economy and revive a beautiful town.

What do you think? Would you like to see development in Maun? 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.