Travel Botswana: Too Limited to the Rich and Famous?

Botswana is an Africa success story in many respects. In a continent littered with political turmoil, corruption, famine, and disease, Botswana has emerged as a diamond in the ruff.

Photo © iStock/brytta

It's diamonds that have brought stability, infrastructure, government services, and capital to Botwana's growing economy. Rich diamond deposits were discovered only a few years after the country gained independence in 1966, and revenue earned from their extraction has funded near-first-world healthcare, roads, schools, and social services. But the diamonds can only last so long, and with less than three decades of reserves left in the mines, Botswana is working hard to diversify its economy.

After diamonds, tourism is Botswana's ticket to prolonged success, and the country has taken a very proactive approach to developing a specific type of tourism – conservation-focused, high-revenue, low-volume travel. Ok, that's industry speak, but essentially what the country is trying to promote is luxury travel to the bush to the select few that can afford it. If promoted well and monitored closely, this type of tourism could soon overtake diamonds as the #1 industry in Botswana, and hopefully ensure ongoing success for the country's economy and citizens.

While the conservation-focused luxury travel model certainly has its advantages, it also brings up an important debate – should access to the world's most amazing places be limited only to those with deep pockets? On one hand, this type of travel has its benefits for the environment and the economy; on the other hand, restricting access to those with extensive financial resources prevents most of the local population from experiencing their own backyard.

Let's look at a few of the pros and cons of Botswana's tourism strategy.

Pros

Controlling Environmental Impacts

Focusing on low-volume visitation means fewer negative environmental impacts on the sensitive African bush and wildlife (fewer people, fewer jeeps, less water, less fuel, less waste, etc).

Revenue for Conservation

High taxes, fees, and levies are charged from luxury travelers, which are put towards further conservation efforts.

Super Eco

Luxury travel providers have the financial means to invest in cutting-edge eco and sustainable tourism projects. Some of the world's leading eco-lodges can be found in the Botswana bush.

Efficient Conservation

With only a handful of operators, less money is spent on monitoring and oversight, directing more money towards other important conservation initiatives.

Cons:

No Access for the Masses

Nature is meant to be shared by all, and everyone should have the opportunity to experience the African bush. First and foremost, the people of Botswana should have reasonably-priced access to their own natural wonders.

Conservation Opportunities Lost 

If locals don't have the opportunity to enjoy the bush, how can they be expected to fight for its protection?

Fewer Jobs

Low-volume tourism means fewer employment opportunities for the people living near the parks and reserves.

What do you think?

Should the government restrict access to help curb environmental impacts? Or should conservation sacrifices be made in the name of making nature accessible to all? In Botswana's case, it's a complicated issue with many additional factors to consider. Whether you agree with the country's approach or not, one thing is for sure – Botswana's nature reserves and wildlife are worth a visit... if you can afford it.

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1 Comment

  • Laura said

    While I agree to an extent, Botswana is becoming much more accessible. I went through there in July as a backpacker and camped. It was affordable and public transport is improving. I took a mokoro trip in the Delta through a Polers Trust and did a river cruise at Chobe. Due to the economic downturn, Botswana could no longer survive on high-end tourism, which is why camping sites and hostels are beginning to pop up.

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