Despite being perceived as one of the smaller players on the continent, Botswana quietly enjoys one of the highest economic growth rates in Africa. And, with diamonds and dollar-toting tourists to rely on, the future looks bright.
Four decades of peaceful elections – and a plentiful supply of diamonds – have gifted Botswana a booming GDP, growing per-capita income and healthy export earnings. High-end luxury tourism also contributes considerably to the bottom line and – with diamond production expected to level off by 2030 – offers some of the country’s best long-term investment prospects.
Business Travel Activity
There appears to have been more activity on the hotel, rather than the airline front, in 2012. April saw the announcement of South Africa-based City Lodge’s first foray in the rest of Africa.
The group announced the development of a 106-room 2-star Town Lodge in Gaborone, and it’s expected to open in February. The other major development took place in August, with the opening of Lonrho Hotels’ Lansmore Masa Square.
The hotel offers 153 rooms and includes a conference centre, roof-top pool and cocktail bar, business lounge, Espretto coffee shop and gourmet restaurant. With regards the airlines, there’s been some interest in Maun – Botswana’s ‘tourism capital’ – with South Africa-based Airlink starting to fly there from Johannesburg, and Air Botswana launching their Maun-Cape Town route. Perhaps more significantly, July saw Botswana open its skies even further, with the signing of a Bilateral Air Services Agreement with Ethiopia and Mauritius, who joined Belgium, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, the UK, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Although no long-haul international flights arrive at Gaborone’s Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, there are good regional connections. “The new airport building has been completed, but it’s still not fully opened,” says Bruce Page-Wood, Peermont’s Chief Operating Officer in Botswana. “It’s very comfortable, but it can also get very hot in the summer months. Border forms are required to be completed on arrival and departure, so a tip is to pick up an extra one on arrival to speed up your departure. Most of the quality hotels offer free transfers, so taxis are not normally required.”
Gaborone is about half an hour’s drive from the airport, and while taxis are readily available in urban areas, car hire is both safe and accessible. An international driving licence is acceptable in Botswana for stays of up to 90 days. Central areas of Gaborone are generally safe to explore on foot, but be cautious at night.
Visas are not required by citizens of the European Union, most Commonwealth countries, Israel, Norway, Switzerland and the United States. A 30-day entry stamp is issued on arrival. However, many citizens of north, west and central Africa will require a visa. Visit botswanaembassy.org.
The connection of Botswana to the East Africa Submarine Cable System has greatly improved Internet speeds, although coverage is – understandably – limited once you move outside the major cities. Internet access is common in hotels and via cellular coverage (although often only EDGE or GPRS, not 3G). Botswana’s GSM network allows for international roaming, and pre-paid SIM cards are widely available for both voice and data connections.
It’s been an interesting year on the Gaborone hotel scene, with the moves made by Lonrho Hotels and City Lodge. Lonrho and Peermont look set to go head to head in the 5-star market, with Lonrho’s Lansmore Masa Square up against Peermont’s Walmont at The Grand Palm – the only two 5-star properties in Gaborone, although the Lonrho property has yet to be officially graded.
“In Gaborone we regard ourselves as the market leaders in premium and select service hotels,” says Mark Jakins, Peermont’s Chief Marketing and Customer Officer. “The Grand Palm will shortly open a luxurious spa, as well as a new Chinese restaurant. We’re confident that, notwithstanding the arrival of new competitors, our hotels will continue to enjoy market leadership status.”
Peermont also offers a 3-star Metcourt Inn at The Grand Palm and a 4-star Mondior. Otherwise, there’s Sun International’s Gaborone Sun, as well as another group with a big Botswana presence – Cresta Hotels. This group has nine properties across the country, including two in Francistown and two in Gaborone – Cresta President and Cresta Lodge.
“I like Cresta Hotels, due to the fact that it has a country-wide footprint, whilst there’s also the new Phakalane Hotel, which is great if you like your golf, with an 18-hole course on the estate,” says Julian Hill, General Manager: Avis Rent a Car & Fleet Services Botswana.
Botswana enjoys a low crime rate, although it always pays to be wary in urban areas. If you choose to self-drive, be alert for wildlife and domestic livestock on highways and avoid driving at night.
Malaria is only prevalent in the tourist-focused northern areas of the country. There is no malaria in Gaborone or Francistown. Travellers arriving from yellow fever regions will need to present a certificate of vaccination.
Population: 2 million
Time zone: GMT +2
Plugs: Two and three-prong round socket
Dialling code: +267
Currency: Pula. Exchange rate: US$1=BWP8.5
Language: English and Setswana
If a traditional hotel is not what you’re after and you fancy a bit of adventure, give the Zambezi Queen a try. A Mantis Collection product, this luxury river safari cruises along the banks of the Chobe River and is uniquely situated only a few kilometres from the point where four African countries meet – namely Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Your best bet is to fly into Kasane International Airport, with Air Botswana operating flights between Gaborone and Kasane.
Africa’s Least Corrupt Nation
2012 saw Botswana again capture the title of ‘Africa’s Least Corrupt Nation’, according to watchdog Transparency International. Botswana achieved a score of 65, whilst Somalia was bottom of the pile with just eight. South Africa scored only a mediocre 43, whilst the world leaders are Denmark, Finland and New Zealand, who all tied at the top with a score of 90.
Air Botswana – airbotswana.co.bw
Air Namibia – airnamibia.com.na
Airlink – flyairlink.com
BA – ba.com
Emirates – emirates.com
KLM – klm.com
Kenya Airways – kenya-airways.com
LAM – lam.co.mz
SAA – flysaa.com
SA Express – flyexpress.aero
Access to Africa – access-to-africa.com
&Beyond – andbeyondafrica.com
Carlson Wagonlit – carlsonwagonlit.com
Club Travel – clubcorporatetravel.co.za
Harvey World – harveyworld.co.za
HRG – hrgworldwide.com
iKapa – ikapa.co.za
SA Travel Centre – satravelcentre.com
Sure Travel – suretravel.co.za
Tourvest – tourvest.co.za
Uniglobe – uniglobetravel.mu