Brimming with opportunity

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Politically stable, with a long-standing multiparty democracy, Botswana flies under the radar in Africa, yet remains an attractive business travel destination with much to offer.

 

Botswana is the world’s largest producer of diamonds and the trade has transformed it into a middle-income nation. 2014 saw the diamond trade moved from London to the Botswana capital of Gaborone, which is also seeing the beneficiation of diamonds taking place, whilst there are also now companies polishing diamonds locally.

“Since its independence in 1966, Botswana has experienced tremendous economic growth, ensuring its position among Africa’s top developing countries,” says Thapelo Modise, Sales & Marketing Manager Grand Palm Resort, part of the Peermont Group. “This growth comes as a result of policy changes, investment and diversification of resources.”

The diversification Modise speaks of comes in the form of the government attempting to reduce the over-reliance on two of the main revenue drivers – diamonds and beef exports – and focusing instead on high revenue investment that will boost the economy.

This has proved necessary, due to the diamond market making up as much as 40% of the country’s revenue, with a recent slump in pricing and demand reducing the GDP forecast for the year from 4.9% to 2.3%.

That being said, Botswana remains an attractive investment option.

“Botswana is perhaps Africa’s most economically transparent and mature market and offers good growth potential as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with a GDP (purchasing power parity) per capita of about $18,825 per year as of 2015, which is one of the highest in Africa,” says Jan van der Putten, Vice-President: Africa and Indian Ocean for Hilton Worldwide.

No surprise that Hilton is bullish about Botswana, with the international hotel group recently announcing the development of its first property in the country, the Hilton Garden Inn Gaborone.

Botswana protects some of Africa’s largest areas of wilderness. Being a dry desert landscape, with nearly 85% of the land area dedicated to the semi-arid Kgalagadi terrain, the country is sparsely populated. The Kalahari Desert makes up much of the territory, and most areas are too arid to sustain any agriculture other than cattle, which is the country’s third largest industry.

“Countries like Botswana are blessed with an abundance of natural resources and a wealth of flora and fauna that makes it extremely attractive for sustainable tourism,” says Hassan Ahdab, Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ Vice-President and Regional Director for Africa & Indian Ocean Operations. “We believe countries like this have immense potential to attract and benefit from branded hotel supply.”

Botswana also plays an active role in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) economic grouping, and was the host of the recent 35th Southern African Development Community summit, taking over from Zimbabwe as the SADC chair, a position it will hold until August 2016. President Ian Khama was elected chairperson for the coming year.

Working against Botswana is the fact that it has experienced a terrible water shortage recently, to the extent that parliament allocated relief funds for the agriculture sector. In the wake of the country’s worst drought in 30 years, part of the $44-million budget is being offered to livestock farmers to reduce the number of animals in their herds as available grazing shrinks. Money is also being allocated to the purchase of new fire fighting vehicles, irrigation projects and additional food for malnourished children.

On a more positive note, gas has been discovered in underground coal resources 25 kilometres west of Serowe – in Botswana’s Central District – and Tlou Energy is preparing a commercial viability study. If deemed profitable, the company will begin extraction in 2016. Coupled with a gas-fired power station that Tlou is planning in conjunction with Australian IK Holdings and 150 kilometres of transport piping from Orapa, the estimated 30 trillion cubic feet of coal-bed methane gas is expected to economically benefit the country.

CITIES

From a business travel point of view, much of the focus is on the capital and largest city, Gaborone, in the south-east of the country. Modern day Gaborone boasts four large American-style ‘malls’, replete with cinema complexes, a host of hotels, guest houses and restaurants, an international airport, a cultural centre, nightclubs, a national museum and art gallery, as well as two golf courses and other sports facilities.

“In the past five years we have seen most businesses migrate to the CBD,” says Modise.

According to Modise, the CBD is strategically situated with easy access to malls, hotels, restaurants, railway stations and bus stops.

“This is the ideal set-up for a business person who does not want to commute long distances between meetings, dining, leisure and resting facilities,” he says.

One of Gaborone’s selling points is the ability for visitors to enjoy familiar modern conveniences and facilities, whilst still being able to gain entry into rural Africa, or wildlife areas, within minutes. There are two main game parks in and around Gaborone, one within the city and the other about seven kilometres outside, with various animals, including zebra, kudu, impala and cheetah.

Gaborone’s first mall – often referred to as the Main Mall – is a pedestrian-only business and commercial centre that boasts some of the town’s oldest shops and office buildings, as well as one of its first hotels, the President Hotel – now a Cresta Hotels property. At its top end, across the Nelson Mandela Road, sits the Government Enclave and the National Assembly; and at the opposite end are the Gaborone City Town Council offices.

Situated 436 kilometres north of Gaborone, Francistown is the country’s second largest city, and an industrial and transport hub, with a railway line leading north to Bulawayo (Zimbabwe). The main road north-west of Francistown gives passage to Maun and the Okavango Delta, Kasane and Chobe National Park, Livingstone (Zambia) and Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe). Francistown is currently undergoing an economic boom, mostly due to the recent resuscitation of gold mining, which has given new life to the property and transport sectors, with the accompanying infrastructural additions and development.

“Francistown is the halfway stop between the north and the south and is booming with development,” says Casper Mare, General Manager of Town Lodge Gaborone. “Large companies, such as Builders Warehouse, are starting to invest there.”

Palapaye and Mahalapye are also developing fast as government departments set up offices in these towns.

Situated on the banks of the Chobe River, Kasane is both the administrative centre of Chobe District and the gateway to Chobe National Park. It also is an important point of debarkation for the nearby Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Livingstone in Zambia, and Namibia’s Caprivi Strip.

Although officially a town and not a city, Maun is often regarded as Botswana’s ‘tourism capital’, and is home to the numerous safari and air charter operations that run trips into the Okavango Delta.

“One major hurdle of doing business in areas other than Gaborone, especially with government offices, it that authorisation for most transactions has to come from head office,” says Modise. “In some cases you will have to travel to Gaborone to finalise your affairs.”

AIRLINES & AIRPORTS

Air Botswana is the national airline, owned by the government. Although well run, it is struggling to remain profitable. Domestically, Air Botswana operates from Gaborone to Francistown, Maun and Kasane. Internationally, it operates to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Harare, and Lusaka. Other routes include Maun-Johannesburg, Francistown-Johannesburg and Kasane-Johannesburg.

Other airlines that operate into Botswana are South African Express, between Gaborone and Johannesburg; Air Namibia, with flights between Windhoek and Maun; Airlink, with flights from Johannesburg to Gaborone, Maun and Kasane; and Kenya Airways, which operates direct flights between Nairobi and Gaborone.

There are four international airports in Botswana – Francistown International Airport, which is about three kilometres from the city centre; Kasane Airport, four kilometres from town; Maun Airport; and Gaborone’s Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, 15 kilometres north of the city.

The international airport is named after the first president of Botswana and opened in 1984. Airport facilities include luggage storage, luggage shrink wrap, banks, a bar, snack bar, restaurant, post office, duty-free shops and car hire.

“The airport’s multi-million pula refurbishment project was recently completed and it now has an increased capacity to handle regional and international traffic,” says Patrick Chivese, Group Sales and Marketing Manager of Cresta Hotels.

With an increased stretch of up to four kilometres, the airport can now accommodate larger aircraft, such as the Boeing 747.

“Due to the policies and procedures and the thoroughness of security, customs at the airport is quite strict and can be time consuming,” says Mare.

In early 2013 Air Botswana unveiled its new lounge, after years of operating without one. The Pula Lounge offers services such as free wi-fi, refreshments and television, and is situated just off the international departures hall. The lounge is open to Club Gold and Diamond card holders of Air Botswana’s Teemane Club loyalty programme.

Through Priority Pass, passengers have access to the Nthula Lounge. This lounge is airside of Sir Seretse Khama – after immigration turn right and the lounge is located straight ahead. Operating hours are from 06h00 to 20h00. Conditions include: international flights only; maximum three hour stay; children under two are admitted free; premium selection of alcoholic drinks are subject to payment; smart casual at all times; no smoking. The lounge offers air-conditioning; disabled access; alcohol; a flight info monitor; newspapers/magazines; refreshments, TV and wi-fi.

Mare says the catering is rather basic, but that the service makes this lounge worth a visit.

“It’s superbly attentive and friendly,” he says. “After clearing passport control when leaving the country, there is not much else to do but wait. I wouldn’t recommend going through too early.”

It is possible to rent a car at the airport, as big car rental brands Avis, Budget and Europcar have a presence there, although hotel and transfer shuttles can be arranged. There are also designated parking bays for the public, as well as pick-up and drop-off areas.

HOTELS

The Gaborone market has seen some ownership and management change in 2015, specific to two of the city’s most prominent hotels.

Lonrho Hotels opened the 5-star Lansmore Masa Square in 2012, before the group sold the hotel to the property’s landlord – RDC Properties – in April of this year. African Hotels & Adventures (AHA) was awarded the management and marketing contract.

The other major change saw the Gaborone Sun renamed the AVANI Gaborone Resort & Casino. This followed the announcement earlier in the year that Sun International had entered into a deal with Minor Hotel Group. As part of the deal, Sun International disposed of a significant portion of its African portfolio.

The newest players in the Gaborone hotel market are South Africa-based City Lodge, which opened the Town Lodge – its 2-star brand – in 2013, and Aquarian Tide, which opened along the A1 to Francistown this year.

“There is an increasing boom of hotels in the city thanks to new investors and businesses opening in Botswana,” says Modise of Gaborone. “Local lodges and guest houses have had to up their game in order to compete with international hotel chains.”

Peermont is currently represented by the 5-star Walmont at The Grand Palm, 4-star Mondior, 3-star Metcourt Inn at The Grand Palm, and the Gaborone International Convention Centre, also at the Grand Palm. Interestingly, though, Peermont is poised to be bought out by Sun International, with approval on that deal imminent. So, Sun International could well find itself with a bigger Gaborone presence once again.

Cresta Hotels has 10 properties across the country, including two in Francistown and two in Gaborone – Cresta President and Cresta Lodge. If you’re looking for representation across the country, Cresta has the biggest footprint, with its remaining properties in Jwaneng, Kasane, Mahalapye, Maun, Palapye, and Selebi-Phikwe.

It is also one of the few groups with a property in its development pipeline. Earlier this year saw ground broken on Cresta Maun Resort, which will have 83 rooms, two conference facilities, and an on-site restaurant that will be able to seat around 200.

“Maun is the gateway to the Okavango Delta and a significant travel and tourism centre in Botswana, and we are proud to have taken a major step towards establishing a brand-new hotel in this area,” said Glenn Stutchbury, CEO of Cresta Hotels.

The most ‘hot-off-the-press’ Botswana hotel development news reached the market in mid-August when Hilton Worldwide announced that it had signed a management agreement with Fleming Asset Management Botswana, on behalf of Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund, to open the mid-market Hilton Garden Inn Gaborone.

Expected to open in 2017, the hotel forms part of a new and evolving commercial business district, and will be just 13 kilometres from Sir Seretse Khama International Airport. Hilton Garden Inn Gaborone will feature 150 guest rooms and offer signature bedding, a health club, outdoor swimming pool, all-day dining restaurant, bar and 24-hour Pavilion Pantry. Guests will also have accces to a 24-hour business centre and complimentary wi-fi, and will benefit from more than 400 square metres of meeting space.

If you fancy your golf and have the time, give consideration to the 4-star Phakalane Golf Estate Hotel Resort, which has 80 rooms and serviced apartments.

“Accommodation supply in Gaborone can become tight at times, especially if there are big events happening in Gaborone or at the GICC (Gaborone International Convention Centre),” says Mare. “During those times, Gaborone tends to have a shortage of quality accommodation for the corporate market – hence, the development of more hotels in Gaborone. The 4-star hotels are very popular, but with the introduction of quality two and 3-star hotels in Gaborone, and at lower rates, the competition has become healthier.”

CARD ACCEPTANCE

Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted in Botswana, particularly in the cities and larger towns. There is less acceptance of American Express and Diners Club cards.

Should you find yourself in need of cash, you can draw pula from ATMs in the cities and larger towns.

The main commercial banks include Bank of Baroda, Barclays Bank of Botswana, First National Bank, Stanbic Bank Botswana and Standard Chartered Bank, with branches in major towns and villages.

VISAS

Citizens of most European and Commonwealth countries do not require a visa for entry into Botswana, however everyone should check with Botswana embassies or consulates, or their travel agents, before departure. For countries in which Botswana has no diplomatic representation, visa information and processing is available through British embassies and High Commissions.

It is vital for visitors to carry a valid passport and sufficient funds to facilitate their stay. Travellers from the following African countries require visas to visit Botswana: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Madagascar, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, and Tunisia.

CONNECTIVITY

Most of Botswana is networked by automatic telephone exchanges, with public telephones in even the most remote places.

Cellular phone coverage is provided by Mascom, Orange and BEMobile. SIM cards are available in most supermarkets and service stations for around BWP10 (approximately $1).

“The internet connection around Gaborone is fairly poor, but with the recent introduction of 4G by two of the mobile networks there has been great improvement in coverage in and around the city,” says Modise. “One major hindrance to connectivity, however, is the rapid power cuts across the country.”

“Fibre optic cables have just been introduced in certain areas, which will improve connectivity,” says Mare.

The mobile networks in Botswana offer various services to their subscribers, including internet access, a fax service, and international roaming. It is important to seek advice about network services, so as to choose one that will work for you.

Internet cafes are situated in cities and towns and are affordable. Wi-fi popularity is growing, albeit slowly, and hotspots can be found in certain hotels and restaurants in Gaborone.

HEALTH

If you are travelling with medicine containing habit-forming drugs or narcotics – such as cough medicine, diuretics, heart drugs, tranquilisers, sleeping pills, depressants, or stimulants – you should have everything properly identified, and it is suggested that you travel with either a prescription or a written statement from your personal physician.

All major towns and cities have chemists, and pharmaceutical supplies are readily available, although travel insurance is essential.

“The health services around the country are of a high standard, with private hospitals and clinics in every block and government referral hospitals in and around the city,” says Modise. “There is a clinic for every town and village outside of Gaborone.”

Tap water is considered safe to drink, although outside the main cities and towns visitors are advised to drink bottled water.

No compulsory inoculations are required for Botswana. However, recommended inoculations are hepatitis A and tetanus, as well as precautions for malaria, if you intend visiting the swamps.

TRAVEL TIPS

When first introduced to someone in Botswana, refer to them by their title until being invited to call them by their first or given name. Always greet someone with your right hand.

Airports, official residences and defence establishments should not be photographed, whilst permission should be obtained to photograph local people.

Do not smoke in the same area where food is being served. Punctuality is very important, whilst yawning in public is considered rude.

The voltage in Botswana is 220-240 volts AC. Plug types include the British-style plug with two flat blades and one flat grounding blade, and South African or Indian-style plugs which have two circular metal pins above a large circular grounding pin.

From a climate point of view, temperatures in summer can reach as high as 40 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country, and as low as -3 in winter in other parts.

“Traffic in Gaborone can become very busy, since imported vehicles from Japan are cheaply available, and more people are driving,” says Mare.

There are three major traffic circles in Gaborone, leading to major routes on the way out of town, which become very busy during peak traffic hours. However, between 07h00 and 08h00, traffic lights at major intersections are switched off and controlled by police pointsmen.

Due to the strict liquor laws in Botswana, no alcohol may be sold after 22h00 (23h00 on Fridays and Saturdays), and certain family restaurants may not sell alcohol before 14h00. However, special licenses have been granted to clubs.

“There is a 50% alcohol levy which applies in Botswana, therefore the nightlife in Gaborone can be very expensive,” says Mare.

CONTACTS
botswanatourism.co.bw

SIDEBAR – FACT FILE
Population:
2,084,244
Time zone: GMT+2
Plugs: M-Plug, G-Plug, Europlug
Dialling code: +267
Currency: Pula – $1=10.3BWP
Language: English, Setswana

 OPINION PIECE
Dominique Smith
African Partner Network – American Express Travel Services South Africa

I travelled to Botswana from Johannesburg in May 2014 on the direct services of Airlink from O.R. Tambo International Airport to Gaborone. I found Sir Seretse Khama International Airport in Gaborone clean, easy to navigate and well located. Immigration went smoothly and I was met by the hotel transfer company for my transfer to Cresta Lodge Gaborone. I found the infrastructure good, with all main roads tarred and road signs visible. Generally, Gaborone is easy to navigate, and I would not have had a problem hiring a car and driving myself. Cell phone coverage was good, whilst wi-fi was available at the hotel and I was able to connect via phone and laptop easily.

Once proudly referred to as ‘Africa’s fastest-growing city,’ Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, has been – since its inception – continually expanding, to the point that now the sprawling urban centre of some 300,000 residents has become nearly unrecognisable. 

After two days in Gaborone I flew on Air Botswana from Gaborone to Kasane to visit the Chobe Game Lodge. Kasane has a very small airport with no airport lounge – most passengers wait outside or in the small arrivals area, but there was some construction underway. There was also a small shop, bathroom facilities and wi-fi available. Kasane is the gateway airport to Chobe National Park, which covers approximately 11,700km2, encompassing floodplains, swamps and woodland.

All in all, I found Botswana a friendly, clean, and easy country to travel to and navigate. Travelling alone as a woman, I never felt unsafe or threatened – people were helpful and engaging.