Article copyright: Commonwealth News and Information Service (London)
A guidelines manual and certificate system is in place to encourage tourism companies to comply with recognized environmental standards
During the dry season in Chobe National Park, the third largest in Botswana, as many as 120,000 elephants migrate over 200 kilometers in search of rain and water.
This spectacle is one of a number of attractions luring tourists to this national park, which is divided into four eco systems and is home to a wide variety of other animals from predators such as lions, hyenas and jackals to other species including wildebeests, waterbucks and warthogs.
Due West of this Park is the Okavango Delta – the world’s biggest inland delta – which empties into the vast Kalahari Desert. Every year the delta empties about 15,000 square kilometers of water into this otherwise arid desert.
These attractions, alongside an abundance of other wildlife and wilderness, entice an increasing number of travelers to Botswana.
Detective provokes interest
The international success of Alexander McCall Smith’s novel, ‘The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency’ set in the country’s capital Gaborone, has also added to the international interest in this sub-Saharan country.
Whilst growth in tourism is providing an important contribution to its economy – exporting diamonds remains the dominant sector – the Botswana Tourism Board and Ministry of Tourism also want sufficient efforts to be made that ensure the environment is sustained in the long-term.
The Tourism Board consequently implemented a national strategy in 2002 focusing on what needs to be done to make certain that Botswana’s tourism continues to be environmentally driven.
“We wanted an accepted and consistent understanding of what we mean by eco-tourism. Otherwise there is a danger that companies will all start calling themselves ‘environmentally friendly’ when in fact none of them are complying to the same standards,” says Myra Sekgororoane, Chief Executive Officer of the Tourism Board.
Subscribing to recognized standards
With this in mind, the Ministry of Tourism requested assistance from the Commonwealth Secretariat to create a guidelines manual and a certificate system for companies. This manual, which acts as a reference for all tourism companies working in Botswana, looks at areas like water and energy management.
Botswana is home to the majority of mammal species from Southern Africa because the Okavango Delta and Chobe River provide a year-round water supply.
If companies comply with these ‘best practices’ laid out in the manual they will be given a certificate – similar to the star rating used by hotels – so that tourists can recognize that they are subscribing to recognized standards.
“What has been quite evident in the last couple of years is that the international community is more and more interested in looking at whether certain environmental standards are being met,” explains Ms Sekgororoane.
One traveling trend the Tourism Board is particularly aware of is that many long-haul tourists tend to visit two or three countries during one trip. While Botswana has a significant amount to offer visitors, as a land locked country it recognizes that it cannot provide the option of a beach, sea or ocean.
This has led to discussions with neighboring countries about establishing a regional body which could help sub-Saharan countries conform to the same eco-tourism standards laid out in the guidelines manual.
“It is easier to penetrate different tourism markets if we have regional policies and opposed to national ones. By working together, countries in sub-Saharan Africa will appeal more of these long haul travelers if they can be seen to be working together and subscribing to the same set of environmental principles,” says Tshenolo Mopako, Environment & Safety Officer at the Tourism Board.
This has already been achieved with a memorandum concerning the Kalahari Transfrontier Park which covers Botswana and South Africa. An obstructive boarder fence was taken down so that proceeds and environmental management responsibilities are now shared between these neighboring countries. This allows both to benefit and causes less stress for the tourist visiting the Park, who will no longer need to concern themselves with boarder restrictions.
The manuals and certificate system – which were also funded by the Commonwealth Secretariat – have recently been completed, leaving the Tourism Board in a position to advocate their uses to companies across the country and even the region.
“We are currently going out telling businesses about the benefits of the manual and the certificate,” says Mr. Mopako. “Ultimately when these businesses have taken advantage of this, we can then back away.”
Copyright © 2008 Commonwealth News and Information Service. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).