Industry participants in Botswana and abroad extol the country’s unique natural resources that provide it with a significant advantage in the tourism sector. Tourism is a major contributor to the national economy and has tremendous potential for growth. Most business analysts estimate this difficult-to-quantify sector accounts for less than 10 percent of GDP. The GoB is committed to growing the sector as part of its economic diversification strategy. However, the sector was hit particularly hard by COVID-19, with revenues falling by close to 95 percent according to tour operators. The GoB’s recovery plan which marketed Botswana as one of the safest places to visit was thwarted in 2021 as Botswana became one of countries with the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rates. The sector began to rebound in 2022 due to more relaxed travel restrictions and more tourism activities. Botswana seeks to broaden its tourism base by adding more products and increasing the geographic spread of tourism. While to date Botswana tourism has focused almost exclusively on high-end consumers, the GoB is interested in expanding into the mid-range market in an effort to increase revenue and jobs for local Batswana. Providing consistent quality service remains the main challenge.
The government encourages new investments and joint ventures in tourism and continues to play a major role in developing tourism projects. In 2020, the GoB announced a new tourism policy that reserved tourism licenses exclusively for Botswana citizen operators. The government has also reserved new safari concessions for citizens. New hotels (including U.S. brands) and conference facilities have opened in the last five years, increasing the country’s capacity to host international conferences and events. The government continues to upgrade infrastructure in wildlife-protected areas (natural parks and game reserves). Government regulators continue to approve the opening of lodge sites within four of the largest national parks. Botswana re-introduced trophy hunting in 2019 through a permitting and quota system, often allowing community-based trusts to issue the licences and benefit from the revenues. This system has been slow to roll out because of the COVID-19 pandemic but has shown potential to attract deep-pocketed hunters. The United States works very closely with the African countries that allow sport hunting to ensure that U.S. citizens are complying with all the required laws and regulations when they visit African countries to hunt.
While there are two high-quality hotel and conference facilities in Gaborone, the city occasionally experiences shortages of hotel rooms during major conferences and summits. Gaborone’s hotel room capacity is insufficient if it plans to expand business-related travel. However, some experts assess the hotel market in Gaborone to be saturated based on recent hotel development projects and current visit volumes. In 2019, the U.S. based chain Hilton entered the Botswana hotel market with a branch of its Garden Inn brand in Gaborone. In 2020, the U.S. based Marriott International – the largest hotel chain in the world – entered the Botswana market by taking over an existing property in Gaborone with its Protea brand.
The Botswana Tourism Organization (BTO), a quasi-government entity, is responsible for all operational functions of the tourism sector such as marketing, investment promotion, and the grading of tourism facilities to international standards. The Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) is a non-profit organization that serves as the governing body of hospitality and tourism industries. This wholly member funded organization exists to promote, encourage, and police excellence in hospitality and tourism in Botswana.
Sub-Sector Best Prospects
Eco-tourism, midrange tourism excursions, hotels, lodges, resorts, direct flights, and restaurants are the best sub-sector prospects.
There are opportunities for joint ventures for hotel expansions and start-ups along the Trans-Kalahari Highway, joining Botswana and Namibia, and development of lodges in the Kgalagadi Trans-frontier Park, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, and forest reserves surrounding Chobe National Park. A memorandum of understanding to establish a trans-frontier conservation area, commonly referred to as the Limpopo/Shashe Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA), was signed in June 2006. This is a unique partnership between the governments of Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, the private sector, and the local communities to create new opportunities for eco-tourism. The TFCA was renamed the Greater Mapungubwe TFCA on June 19, 2009. The Greater Mapungubwe is similar in concept to the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) TFCA that seeks to connect Protected Areas in Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Angola. Member countries are working to simplify travel between protected areas in the five-country region through the implementation of the KAZA UniVisa for Botswana and the region.
- Botswana Ministry of Environment and Tourism
- Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB)
- The Tourist (Botswana Tourism Magazine)
- Botswana Tourism Organization (BTO)
- Botswana Ministry of Trade and Industry