In the lucrative world of tourism, prices matter less. What the tourists want is the best service. This according to Botswana National Productivity Centre (BNPC) senior research consultant-economist, Dr. Phumzile Magagula-Thobokwe.
In an interview with The Voice, Magagula-Thobokwe pointed out that that when international tourists come to Botswana they want to know if the tourism sector offers what they want irrespective of the costs. Efficient delivery of these products is the draw cards, which when played the right way can sell the tourism sector.
Magagula-Thobokwe who is also in the BNPC Information & Research Department said that in essence, while there will be market for the consumption experience, there will also be a separate one based on whether service delivery equates value-for-money. The success of the sector requires various services providers to strive for quality to ensure that tourists have a memorable experience in Botswana and therefore come again or tell others to visit the country.
Magagula-Thobokwe said: “In terms of faring Switzerland is the world’s best tourist destination, although it is more expensive in terms of Botswana. By price Botswana is in the top 10 while Switzerland is no 118. This means that tourists are not worried about the price but more concerned about the quality. As a starting point, we need to improve the quality and not the price and come up with luxury products because tourists can afford them.
“According to the 2008 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index, Botswana was 87/130 countries in the world which was a decline on 2007 where it had been number 70/125. When they were doing the score Botswana had 3.99/7 points which was an improvement. But in 2008 the score slid to 3.65/7 indicating that it had gone down in terms of achievement by 0.34 points and was down by 17 positions and therefore not done well.
“In sub-Saharan Africa Botswana was no 7 in 2008. If it had maintained the 2007 3.99/7 it would have been no 4 after South Africa. But because of the slide to 3.65 it was no 7. Instead of improving we shot ourselves in the foot by decreasing.”
She said that Botswana can excel other countries given its unique tourism attraction, the Okavango Delta, the world largest although it does not have beaches or coastline holiday resorts. The challenge is for Botswana to be innovative and proactive and emulate countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which have similar desert conditions. For example, in the UAE capital city Dubai they have introducing indoor ice-skating and built state-of-the-art shopping malls offering a whole range of exotic luxuries that tourists go for. The city planners have adopted an aggressive marketing strategy to ensure that the country is well known abroad.
“We should market Botswana as brand name in tourism through our foreign missions and embassies. The messages should entice intending tourists to come, discover and enjoy the tourism resorts.”
One of the challenges faced by service providers in the T&T industry is language related. Many service providers are conversant in one international language only (English) and yet many tourists from the developed countries prefer other languages e.g. French, Spanish, or Portuguese. Communication then becomes a problem. In fact English and French are regarded as global languages but English is the second most spoken language in the world, the first being Mandarin (mainly because of the population). French is regarded as the most practical spoken foreign language.
The other challenge relates to finance: Botswana ranks 70 out of 130 in terms of automatic teller machines (ATMs) accepting Visa cards.
“The challenge to tourists is huge, ATMs in this country are sparsely located and not available in some remote parts of the country, yet some service providers do not accept payment by card. Imagine the inconvenience and dilemma, with crime rates escalating people are scared of carrying cash,” she said.
Even more worrying, said Magagula-Thobokwe, is the quality of domestic transport, which is ranked 102 out of 130. “I believe this is not about the vehicles being in bad shape per se, but more to do with the disorganized nature of this service. For an external person where would they know where to go for a combi going to Block 5 as opposed to a combi going to Tlokweng? Also, the operating times do not facilitate planning in the sense that one cannot say, with assurance, that he/she will take a 9’oclock combi/bus at destination X. We surely can do better.”
Reliability of Police services ranks number 65. “The question is why? What is it that is lacking? What can be done to improve?”
The consultant observed that tourism is a critical sector in the economy as it provides employment opportunities to many, contributes to foreign exchange earnings, poverty eradication, economic diversification and community development. More importantly it contributes towards achievement of many of the targets in Vision 2016.