Sector’s recovery halted by new Covid variant
Local tourism’s road to recovery got a whole lot rockier this week as the West, led by the United Kingdom, saw fit to red-list Botswana, along with the rest of Southern Africa, following the discovery of a powerful new Covid-19 variant in the region.
Christened ‘Omicron’, the strain was reportedly traced back to Botswana last Wednesday, with the country reporting four confirmed cases to date.
A return to the red-list is a body blow to the country’s tourism industry and brings the sector’s recent revival to a grinding halt.
With the lucrative festive season fast approaching, the timing could not be worse.
At an engagement with various diplomats on Monday, Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Philda Kereng described the development as a huge blow, completely destabilizing the progress made since September, when the 18-month State of Emergency (SoE) came to an end.
“After the SoE was lifted, things were working well. We had started seeing zero deaths and no infections for quite a long period and we saw positive signs of the recovery of the sector,” noted Kereng, adding most local hotels were fully booked, with mobile operators also experiencing a surge in business.
“Everybody was excited that we are finally recovering until the red-list issue came!”
Highlighting the immediate impact of Botswana’s re-listing, Kereng revealed bookings from abroad were being canceled at an alarming rate.
“We are currently experiencing an avalanche of requests to cancel across the tourism operations. If people cannot travel this is inevitable,” conceded the Tourism Minister darkly.
Kereng warned that the hunting program, which relies heavily on international travel, also stands to suffer.
“Our communities, through Community Trusts, partner with investors who mostly come from abroad to do the hunting. We have already issued hunting quotas for 2022, and where we stand we are not even sure what to do!” she admitted.
Calling for calm, the European Union (EU) Head of Delegation to Botswana and SADC, Jan Sadek stressed the measures taken by the EU are temporary until it is established just how infectious the new variant is.
“Initially there was banning of flights, but more countries are introducing measures in Europe and elsewhere which will allow airlines to re-start the flights. What will happen is that people who have to return to Europe will have to undergo tests and quarantine,” he explained.
Sadek acknowledged that while the red-listing theoretically does not prevent tourists from traveling, it makes the prospect much less attractive.