Air Botswana plans to intensify its survival strategies, including slashing domestic flight fares and offering scenic tours of Gaborone, as it battles to keep afloat amidst a COVID-19-induced revenue collapse.
The national airline says it is presently making under 10% of its pre-COVID revenue and has also gone through months where it did not generate any revenue at all. Parliament recently approved a P100 million cash injection for Air Botswana, but officials say while the funds will go a long way in addressing some of the business’ financial needs, more is required to enhance operational sustainability and address ‘going-concern’ issues.
“Air Botswana is exploring other possible recovery strategies aimed at addressing the commercial viability and sustainability of the business,” Public Relations and Communications Manager, Kefilwe Kebafetotse recently told Mmegi’s BusinessWeek.
“This includes making domestic flights as affordable as possible, also to stimulate the number of passengers. “One of the reasons why the airline bought the 70-seater aircraft was to make air travel affordable.
“We are now focused on offering attractive and affordable rates that are geared towards stimulating the safer mass transportation of customers and the public at large.”
Air Botswana recently introduced a P500 scenic flight over Gaborone and the airline says the inaugural trip was a success. Flights will now take place every weekend and plans are underway to broaden the initiative and have it as part of the national efforts to promote domestic tourism. The national airline has experienced running losses since 2008 due to an ageing fleet, high maintenance costs, equipment failure, route redundancy and pressure from competition. Border closures and restricted movement due to COVID-19 compounded the airline’s troubles, which resulted in Air Botswana suspending flights for a prolonged period earlier this year.
The impact was particularly severe due to the suspension of the Gaborone-Johannesburg route, Air Botswana’s most financially lucrative route. While South Africa opened its borders last week, Botswana borders remain closed due to rising COVID-19 cases.
“It is no secret that the entire industry has been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the airline is supportive of the government’s initiative to combat the spread of the virus, travel restrictions such as permit requirements or the closing of borders make the survival options available to Air Botswana very limited,” she said. “The airline will, however, endeavour to continually review, assess the risks and implement initiatives that could positively impact its business continuity,” Kebafetotse said.
“Given the ever-changing pandemic trends, the airline continues to monitor the travel patterns and (will) increase capacity as per the market demands,” she added.
Last year, Air Botswana said it planned to trim down its workforce by 200, or nearly half, with the majority of departures headed to a new subsidiary, in order to focus on its core mandate.