Southern Africa’s tourism industry took a massive hit at the end of last month after Botswana and South Africa alerted the world of the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant.
The sophisticated genome sequencing systems in both countries led to the discovery and confirmation of a new strain of the virus which has subsequently been named Omicron.
Western countries immediately without any basis placed several countries in southern Africa on their travel ban lists – known as Red Lists. Their discriminatory approach led to massive holiday cancellations.
Recently, most Europeans countries have backtracked following a huge spike in Omicron cases in their own countries.
This has bode well for Botswana’s tourism sector.
Sir Seretse Khama International Airport in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, is seeing increased foot traffic after Europe and other nations lifted their travel ban on the Southern Africa country. The tourism industry is the country’s second-biggest employer after the diamond mining – and the Red List had severely impacted it.
Botswana has some of Africa’s best safari offerings with the Okavango Delta being a major drawcard.
“After we have been taken off from the red list, yes we are starting to see bookings coming in and we are seeing confirmation after the postponements,” says Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana’s Lily Rakorong.
Tour operators and accommodation managers are hopeful that the steady influx over the holiday season will help get their businesses back on track.
“Our cancellations have been minimal, we’ve seen new bookings coming in and for later next year. Our COVID-protocols are in place,” says Great Plains Conservation in Bostwana’s Sharon Unwin.
The reopening of travel has seen tourists flock in again. Many were excited that their chance to see African savannahs were not postponed indefinitely and most were pleasantly surprised at the easy arrival process through Gaborone.
“Botswana is a nice country and it’s very organised in spite of COVID-19, that’s a global pandemic,” says one of the travellers.
Another traveller says; “The only reason we are back is because everything is absolutely fantastic.”
The pandemic continues to ravage the economies with sectors such as travel and leisure hit arguably the hardest. Discriminating policies only make being resilient that much harder.
Botswana’s tourism economy relies heavily on tourism and seeing revellers stream brings some relief.