The Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) has engaged a series of foreign aviation operators to introduce direct flights from Europe to the Okavango Delta in an effort to boost the tourism sector. HATAB Public Affairs and Communications Manager Tebogo Ramakgathi told Sunday Standard Publication that they have been in discussions to look for direct flights into the country.
“We believe that this will be cheaper for tourists, and it will also save time as tourists normally have to fly to South Africa first before flying to Maun,” said Ramakgathi.
She further said so far, Aviation Company, Fly Okavango, has shown interest, with discussions at an advanced stage to have those flying tourists directly from Europe to Maun.
“As you know, the tourism sector has been hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions, it has been difficult for a lot of tour operators to generate revenue, and we are hopeful that once we have a deal in place to have aviation operators flying directly into the country, it will bring about positive impact,” added Ramakgathi.
We have been informed that the company wants to start operating either before the end of the year or early next year. She also noted since last year, the number of tourists have dropped, stating that the introduction of direct flights would likely revive the sector.
“We are aware that the Government has been in discussions, and they have been trying to sign bilateral agreements, which have not yet concluded,” said Ramakgathi.
Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) Public Relations Manager, Moabi Keaikitse said discussions between stakeholders are ongoing.
“I am not at liberty to actually say anything right now, but there are ongoing discussions at Ministerial level. So once they have been concluded, we will release a joint media statement with the company that has shown interest,” said Keaikitse.
For his part, the Minister of Transport and Communications, Thulaganyo Segokgo said it is not the first time there have been suggestions about direct flights from Europe to Maun.
“However, this time around, COVID-19 has posed tremendous challenges to the entire economy, the airline industry being the most affected across the entire world due to restricted movements,” added Segokgo.
Furthermore, he said discussions to attract airlines to operate and transit through Botswana happen at various levels and include several stakeholders such as CAAB, BTO and airlines to attract tourism and business travel. He also said the COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty, saying that Botswana continues to seek avenues, partnerships and alliances as well as luring investors to identify Botswana as a potential tourism destination to ensure the survival of the aviation industry.
Companies in the tourism sector have continuously raised concerns that acquiring travel assurance has been difficult during the State of Emergency. The tourism industry is one of the top sectors of the economy which has suffered the devastating effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. Recently, Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism Philda Kereng said the tourism sector is bearing the brunt of COVID-19, as it depends almost entirely on foreign tourists. She said although her ministry was not yet ready to release figures showing the losses, the sector was seriously affected by the suspension of air travel worldwide, indicating that global tourism has so far lost around US$50 billion.
The minister indicated that the Government is committed to seeing to it that the sector was assisted during and after the lockdown as it is the second-highest income earner for the country. This year, HATAB offered to help the Government with the vaccine roll-out, a move widely seen as vital to saving the sector from collapse. HATAB indicated that the industry committed to funding the cost of vaccinating its own staff and mobilising all of its resources to the procurement, storage, distribution and administration of the vaccines.
They also said subject to costs, it is believed that many businesses would be willing to foot the bill of the vaccines for some family members of staff to reduce the risk of cross-infection and improve the welfare of the families concerned,” read the proposal submitted to the Government.
HATAB also proposed that front-line tourism staff should be designated as essential workers and be given high priority in the allocation of vaccines. It said Botswana had already lost a busy tourism season due to COVID, with the next season starting in May/June.