The Importance of Tourism for Communities in Botswana
There is something our parents always told us that as kids we probably ignored: You don’t realise how important something is, until you lose it.
It is well known that tourism is a critical economic development option in many countries, bringing in much needed foreign revenue. In Botswana tourism is even more important where it has been one of Botswana’s key economic sectors, contributing greatly to government revenue and boosting important macro businesses.
The mighty Okavango Delta and nearby areas such as Maun, Moremi, Savuti and Chobe attract thousands of visitors annually from all over the world. Tourism supporting the communities in these areas through employment and community development and where the payment of government taxes has allowed for the provision of free schooling and health facilities.
Tourism is not just about the big destinations and properties, or the transport and flight companies. It is also about the intricate web of small businesses and entrepreneurs providing travel booking services, day trips, guiding or poling experiences as well as the many businesses that contribute indirectly to the guest experience from providing well-built and maintained safari vehicles to growing and delivering the ingredients for a delicious meal. There are the many community trusts with stakes in concessions with campsites or lodges, all part of Botswana’s strategy of sustainable tourism.
However, at this point in time, not only has the regular and very welcome support of the local travel industry stopped, but international support has also waned, as the Covid pandemic wreaks havoc with economies and peoples’ lives. Without any warning, suddenly there are no travellers and therefore no income impacting thousands of people who may have no work, no or reduced salaries and therefore no or limited means of supporting themselves or their families. This is worsened by the fact that there is no way of knowing when the industry will start to recover.
The Botswana people have a culture of coming together to resolve and face challenges head on, and this time is no different. In the midst of these chaotic and troubling times, we are proudly watching NGOs take the lead in communities to ensure that the most vulnerable are taken care of. Safari Destinations’ own community liaison co-ordinator, Tara Theron, has been working closely with these NGOs to see how we can support them, now and in the months to come. The Government, with the support of the private sector, is going all out to support and assist in a variety of ways. One of these important initiatives is to ensure that everyone has food. We are Proudly Batswana, and are thankful to see the great spirit of BOTHO being ever present. We will continue to bring you reports of what is happening on the ground.
One of the other sayings my parents would regularly say in my childhood when things were tough or something bad happened: Every cloud has a silver lining. While 2019 was a year of drought for Botswana with poor floods for the Okavango Delta, it was a good year for the landscape of the Delta allowing land usually under water to provide more grasslands for antelope herds, more grass means bigger herds. And now in 2020, we are seeing one of the best years yet for the beautiful Okavango Delta in terms of the spectacular flooding of the Delta. The way nature has rebounded teaches us valuable lessons in recovery and hope. We hope you will come and share this wilderness with us soon.
Please don’t cancel your dream-safari. Postpone. Help us protect Tourism, and by doing so, you are positively impacting thousands of lives.
2010 – 2019: A decade of change at Safari Destinations!
Think back to 2010… Nicholas Sarkozy was president of France, Barack Obama was the president of the US, Ian Khama ruled Botswana and Angela Merkel was chancellor of Germany (OK, some things change faster than others!). The best movie at the Oscars was The Hurt Locker (we had totally forgotten about that one) and the top songs were by Ke$ha, Train and Lady Antebellum (who, who and WHO?). There was no Instagram until October of that year, Nxai Pan and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve had no permanent camps, Natural Selection didn’t exist, and who would have thought that AirBnB or Uber would grow so quickly?
Things were very different then and no more so than at Safari Destinations. Our little company was just four years old. Our office was above Mack Air opposite the airport and we had about 15 staff, half of which are still with us today. 2010 was the year when Lorraine and I started searching for a new home for our business, which we found only a couple of kilometres down the road. We bought our new premises in 2011 and thought we would never need all the space – hahaha, were we wrong.
21st century technology
In those long-gone days, most of us still worked on large desktop computers and used the small but efficient Nokia 5300 mobile phone. The fax machine still played a key role (remember how the ink faded right at someone’s phone number?!).
Kay, reservations manager, recalls the prehistoric days before the IT revolution, ‘We used to do everything ourselves: no personal administrators or fancy systems.’
Karen, reservation supervisor, who was the sixth employee to join in June 2008, agrees. ‘When I started, we were quoting manually using Excel and we were also doing all clients’ documentation manually, too, which used to take hours. Now, we have a clever system that works out costs and pulls documentation like invoices, vouchers and confirmations.’
The longest-standing staff at Safari Destinations agree that the biggest change the decade has brought is the colossal change in technology.
‘It really has changed my job in a big way,’ says Angela, Travel Experiences manager. ‘We used to carry a huge manual file with more than 60 Operations Reports when going to the airport to meet clients and, believe me, it was HUGE… Every time you received a call from a supplier, agent or client, you would have to find a little corner in the terminal and flip through the file as fast as you could in order to retrieve information. Today that big black folder has been replaced by a single tablet.
The Travel Experiences team
Angela touched on another big change over the decade: the development of a specialized and highly skilled Travel Experiences team that handles all client meet & greets at Maun International, smoothing arrivals and departures, handling lost luggage, welcoming clients and everything in between.
The Travel Experience team in 2020 makes a big difference to a client’s overall experience and are very appreciated by the rest of Safari Destinations. Kay and Karen remember having to drop consulting in order to race over to the airport to meet their clients, then race back again. ‘Back then, each consultant had to go and meet their own clients. There was no such thing as a “Travel Experiences” team. I must admit, I’m very happy we do now have a Travel Experience team!’, laughs Karen.
But no matter how sophisticated the technology became, Safari Destinations always put people first and the years between 2010 and 2020 saw some incredible projects for staff and the community.
As a mom of two girls herself, Karen appreciates Safari Destinations’ focus on boosting the next generation. ‘The support the company offers parents who have children is one of my biggest highlights of the past decade. Allowing our children to physically be on the office premises in a cottage (known as the Kiddies’ House), being supervised, whilst we can work is a massive benefit.’ This development was ahead of its time in Maun (and actually the rest of the world) and support for working parents is a growing and welcome global trend into 2020.
‘One of the biggest projects,’ says Lorraine, ‘is the vision to build a school and after-care facility for the Bana Ba Letsatsi (BBL) underprivileged children, a dream come true and a testament to the meaningful contribution Safari Destinations and our partners have made through tourism. The long-awaited building will be started in 2020.’
Other notable community-engagement projects include the start of the ‘Magic Bus’. This is a mini-bus that is sponsored by Safari Destinations and gives transport to especially the elderly of Maun, who may otherwise have to walk long distances to attend a clinic or go shopping.
To celebrate Botswana’s 50 years of independence in 2016, staff took part in the ‘500 Man Hours’ project that encouraged them to collectively give 500 hours of time to community projects. Today, Safari Destinations works closely with the Maun Animal Welfare Society (MAWS), Women Against Rape (WAR), Bana Ba Letsatsi (BBL) and many others. Many in the industry are also aware of SD’s work with Sekgoma Primary School, the bed night bank, Travel for Impact and various drives for donations of winter clothes, blankets and foodstuffs.
‘People’ also refers to how Safari Destinations finally started employing the so-called ‘stronger sex’ (ha! Us ladies change tyres, set up tents, dig game-drive vehicles out of sand AND give birth!). ‘The number of men employed is also a big change. In 2008, when I joined, employing men was not in the pipeline; however, once more women joined the company, there was a definite need for some male company!’, jokes Karen.
A maturing industry
As Safari Destinations grew from a toddler to a teenager over the decade, the broader safari industry also matured radically. Everyone agrees that far more players have entered the market, bringing fresh ideas and new people, and making every supplier raise their game to stay competitive. Often this had meant a new level of luxury: wine cellars, Wi-Fi, media rooms, gin bars, specialist spa treatments and à la carte dining were all virtually unknown in 2010.
As Angela says, ‘Suppliers have had to keep up with trending luxury décor in order to stay relevant while not destroying the authenticity of the camps or environment.’ ‘Yes,’ says Karen, ‘More properties are popping up, which means new players as well. The upgrading or rebuilding of a lot of properties to a very high-end level means some products are far more luxurious now than ever before.’
And keeping up with times means the decade also saw huge shifts in how it uses technology.
‘Smart-phone technology and websites being a go-to place for people to do research has been a big change. There is so much more access to information now,’ adds Karen.
‘Social media is a plus. It makes it so much easier for all concerned to get the message out there and also for clients to dream up and plan exotic holidays. Wildlife documentaries, viewed across the world, are also a plus but trying to get an 8-10-day trip to compare with a documentary that is five years in the making, is sometimes challenging, to say the least! Luckily, we rise to the challenge!’, laughs Kay.
‘The rise of social media over the past decade has changed many things,’ agrees Andrea. ‘In some ways, thanks to smart phones and social media, travel is less about the experience of being in moment now and more about what you can post to Instagram later… Every camp now needs a few corners that are highly Instagrammable. It’s the same with some sightings: if the light is low or branches are in the way, then there’s no point in stopping for a photo for some guests. Some clients want the exact experience they’ve seen on Instagram – unfortunately, the elephants aren’t trained to drink from the same swimming pool at the same time every single day!,’ she jokes.
‘Social media also allows for a lot of information, which is a good thing as Karen says, but sometimes that information is put out by amateurs who get things wrong. TripAdvisor is now a staple source of information for clients that they trust without knowing the full story of a stranger’s holiday – a good camp may get a bad review for something beyond their control. As professional consultants and experienced experts, knowing what product would suit which clients is a skill that cannot be replaced by a single TripAdvisor post.
As Kay says, ‘with more and more beautiful videos and photographs appearing online every day, we need to remember that they represent just one moment of a safari. A photographer chooses a single perfect image from a whole journey. For us, the fun and excitement remains in finding sightings, having great guides, smelling the wild sage, hearing the bulbuls call to each other and seeing remarkable landscapes – not in reducing it all to a few pixels on a screen.’
A decade of good laughs
While it’s never easy to grow a business from strength to strength, it is certainly made a lot easier if everyone has a good sense of humour. The Safari Destinations employees who’ve been around since 2010 and before have shared plenty of jokes and funny anecdotes over the years.
Kay groans at some of the crazy requests… ‘We’ve been asked to provide a double room with a sea view at the Victoria Falls Hotel! Once a client was disappointed because they couldn’t take a mokoro from Nxamaseri to Tsodilo Hills to see rhino!’ ‘Oh, that’s nothing,’ says Karen with a straight face. ‘I was once asked if the clients would be able to see unicorns on safari…’
Travel is a big and often stressful part of our jobs as we have to see as many properties as possible, make extensive notes, take photos (and videos now with our phones – unthought of in 2010!) and remember countless names, numbers and facts. But even educational travel has it’s funny side: Lorraine and I were once hosted at Baines’ Camp by Sanctuary Retreats.
‘They ran us a romantic bubble-bath following the afternoon activity that we had no choice but to use. So, we had fun taking a picture of the two of us fully dressed in the bath!’
We’re all looking forward to seeing what advancements, achievements, jokes and memories the next ten years will bring us!
Maun’s Tourist Funded Community Bus
Can you believe that it’s been on our roads for more than a year now? We thought we’d take a look at how Maun’s Tourist Funded Community Bus is benefiting our community.
“The Community Bus has been a ray of sunshine to our children brightening each day through its vibrant colours and comfort”. Taboka Rotsi.
Taboka is the Project Co-coordinator of Bana Ba Letsatsi (BBL) a care centre for orphaned and vulnerable children in Maun. BBL is one of the organisations benefitting from Maun’s unique Community Bus.
Last year – in celebration of Botswana’s 50th Anniversary – Safari Destinations and Travel for Impact (TFI) launched the Community Bus. For the past year it has been making a real difference in the lives of the less fortunate, whilst adding a splash of colour to Maun’s streets.
This unique collaboration between travellers to Botswana, private enterprise and charitable organisations is directly benefitting Maun’s disadvantaged communities.
So, what does the Community Bus do?
It’s a school bus, granny transporter, safety zone and life line that empowers our community all rolled into one. It solves the transportation challenges for not one but several charities by operating on a scheduled basis.
In the morning and afternoons, it does a round trip picking up and dropping off kids for Bana Ba Letsatsi. This coincides with the school run pick up and drop off for children staying at the Woman Against Rape (WAR) shelter for victims of gender based violence. Without the support of the bus most of these children simply wouldn’t attend school due to the distances involved, and those that did, would be late and tired from having to walk several kilometres.
After the morning school run, it’s time to collect and distribute daily food parcels for AGLOW to Maun’s impoverished elderly. Often our driver OB and AGLOW volunteer Lesang, are the only people some elderly see all day. So the bus becomes a lifeline, enabling AGLOW to daily monitor the elderly’s wellbeing, and equally importantly, it provides an opportunity for a chat and some friendship and companionship.
Between its scheduled duties, the bus is pressed into service to assist charitable organisations with ad-hoc requests. Perhaps it will be sent to the local butcher to collect a donation of meat for BBL. It may be dropping or collecting the elderly at the clinic. Transporting MAWS volunteers, collecting dog food donations, delivering donated clothes, collecting food parcels for flood relief…on and on the brightly coloured bus bustles about town!
The weekends are equally busy. It may be transporting the elderly to and from a lunch, transporting the hearing impaired on a photography course, taking children on a field trip or providing transport for a disability workshop.
With over 30,000km on the clock, the bus has delivered approximately 1305 meals, completed over 600 school runs and in the process, has indeed become a lifeline for the Community. These words, from one of the elderly that the bus visits, sums up the vision of the Community Bus. Softly spoken, and with a tremble in her voice, she whispers:
“Every day I am looking forward to seeing the bus coming. I like these people who don’t know me, but come and bring me food. I now sleep full every day.”
A video, The Years Pass By, highlights the work of the bus in the community.
The Community Bus was jointly sponsored by Safari Destinations, with the balance and ongoing expenses supported from The Safari Destinations / Travel for Impact 1US$ Bed Night Levy.
Keeping it in the Family!
Safari Destinations is about family. It is the people that share our daily lives, and who we have grown to love and cherish. With our SD family, we create memories, share good times and help each other through the tough ones.
Some of those good times are celebrating the birth of the children to staff employed at Safari Destinations. At last count, it was 17 in total with another 2 on the way! Close to 50% of all our staff are parents. This is why lift clubs, meal arrangements, play-dates, “Hello Aunty Sarah” as well as kiddies’ laughter and tears are the order of our day.
We all know that total commitment describes our women here at SD. Many years ago when Lorraine and Andrea were still breastfeeding, critical Globetrack training had to take place. So, it all happened “behind the scenes” while the (male) trainer continued his training. He had strict instructions to “Don’t turnaround!”
While 80% of our staff are women, we believe that fathers are just as important as mothers. This is why our Dads get paternity leave with the birth of each child.
Our latest recruit is beautiful, little Paige, born to Senior Consultant, Mia Ives. Once Mia returns to work, as a first time mother, she will have the support and understanding of the Managing Directors, Carina and Lorraine as well as the many women here at SD who have walked the path of managing family and work.
Community Winter Clothing Drive
Brrr!! Winter is upon us bringing harsh climatic conditions to less fortunate people who are not able to afford the basic necessities to keep warm. And so, it was once again time for Safari Destinations’ philanthropic community winter clothing drive. Utilising our strong community network we embarked on a project to gather as much clothing and blankets as possible within the Maun community. The staff of the company were then involved in distributing these items to organisations serving disadvantaged communities. Those communities identified as being in need (in coordination with Travel for Impact); were AGLOW, WAR, BBL, Basket of Love and Botsetse RDS. These organisations assist orphaned children, disadvantaged elders, disadvantaged teen mothers and their babies. The blankest and clothes were welcomed with open arms and lots of people will now be able to bear the cold a little better.
A big thank you to all those who played a part in the success of this mission; from all those businesses that had clothing boxes to collect the clothing, to those who donated clothing, to Safari Destinations who donated close to 50 blankets, to the company staff who gave their time in collecting, sorting, washing where necessary and then distributing the items. Besides staving off the winter chill, this little bit of kindness put a smile on the faces of many.