Sparsely populated, it protects some of Africa’s largest areas of wilderness. Safari-based tourism – tightly-controlled and often upmarket – is an important source of income, whilst Botswana is the world’s largest producer of diamonds, with the trade transforming it into a middle-income nation.
The country has had its share of problems: it once had the world’s highest rate of HIV-Aids infection. UN figures for 2014 suggested that for adults aged 15 to 49 the prevalence rate was 25%. But, Botswana has one of Africa’s most-advanced treatment programmes and medicine for the virus is readily available.
“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,” says Jan van der Putten, Hilton’s Vice-President: Operations for Africa and Indian Ocean.
Ian Khama – the son of Sir Seretse Khama, Botswana’s first post-independence leader – took over as president in April 2008. Khama secured a five-year term in October 2009 after his governing Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) swept to victory in a parliamentary election, and in August 2014 polls he gained a second term when his party gained the most seats.
Critics describe him as authoritarian, while supporters say he is decisive and efficient. His no-nonsense approach has made him popular abroad, as he has broken ranks with regional leaders’ timid approach to join international criticism of democratic abuses by Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe.
Born in the UK while his father was in exile, Khama is a graduate of Sandhurst officer training college in Britain and was the commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) before becoming vice-president in 1998. His ruling Botswana Democratic Party has governed since independence in 1966.
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’, cinema complexes, quality hotels, guest houses and restaurants, an international airport, a cultural centre, nightclubs, a national museum and art gallery, as well as two golf courses.
Gaborone is the economic capital as well as the government capital. It is home to the headquarters of numerous companies, the Botswana Stock Exchange, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Many languages are spoken there, with Setswana (Tswana) being the main tongue. English, iKalanga, and Kgalagadi are also spoken.
In terms of population, Francistown is the second largest city in Botswana and is often described as the “Capital of the North.” It is located in eastern Botswana, about 400 kilometres north-east of Gaborone. Mining and agriculture are the main industries in Francistown, with mining operations producing principally cobalt, copper and nickel.
Maun is only the fifth largest town in Botswana, but is regarded as the country’s “tourism capital”. It is also the headquarters of numerous safari and air charter operations that run trips into the Okavango Delta. Although officially still a village, Maun has developed rapidly from a rural frontier town and has spread along the Thamalakane River. It now has shopping centres, hotels and lodges, as well as car hire, although it retains a rural atmosphere.
AIRLINES & AIRPORTS
There are four international airports in Botswana, in Gaborone, Francistown, Maun and Kasane.
Sir Seretse Khama International Airport is 15 kilometres north of Gaborone and its facilities include luggage storage, luggage shrink wrap, banks, a bar, snack bar, restaurant, post office, duty-free shops and car hire. The airport is still relatively small in size without too much happening.
The airport underwent extensive refurbishment that wrapped up in 2015 and increased capacity to handle regional and international traffic.
“The airport is clean and much better than it used to be,” says Allan Clingham, Chief Operating Officer for aha Masa Square Hotel in Gaborone. “Customs officials are quick and efficient and, in general, it offers a good experience.”
“Always reconfirm your f light before arriving at the airport and allow enough time for check-in,” says Glen Stutchbury, CEO of Cresta Hotels. “People are generally friendly, so don’t be surprised when relative strangers strike up a general conversation!”
Air Botswana’s ‘new’ lounge – the Pula Lounge – has been in operation since 2013 and offers services such as free wi-fi, refreshments and television. It 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, which has wi-fi. This lounge is airside – after immigration turn right and the lounge is located straight ahead.
“Both the Pula and Nthula lounges are average and could do with work on their offering and facilities,” says Clingham.
In terms of airlines, domestically, Air Botswana operates from Gaborone to Francistown, Maun and Kasane, which is in the far north-eastern corner of Botswana. Kasane is unique for its location as the point where four countries – Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe – almost meet.
Internationally, Air Botswana flies to Johannesburg and Cape Town, whilst other routes include Maun-Johannesburg.
Other airlines that operate into Botswana are SA Express, between Gaborone and Johannesburg; Air Namibia, with flights between Windhoek and Gaborone as well as between Gaborone and Durban; Airlink, with f lights from Johannesburg to Gaborone, Maun and Kasane, as well as Cape Town to Maun; Kenya Airways, which operates direct flights between Nairobi and Gaborone; and Ethiopian Airlines, which flies between Addis Ababa and Gaborone.
Aha Hotels & Lodges – the tourism property management company of Tourvest’s Accommodation and Activities division – has been managing the Masa Square Hotel since 2015. The hotel has 152 rooms spread over seven floors, a restaurant and café, rooftop infinity swimming pool, and event space. In addition, there is a fully-equipped Jack’s Gym, the Absolut Gaborone bar, seven meeting rooms with multimedia equipment, and conference facilities that can accommodate up to 200 people.
Aha Hotels & Lodges also manages the Chobe Marina Lodge in the northern part of the country, on the banks of the Chobe River.
Formerly a Sun International property, AVANI Gaborone Resort & Casino has completed an extensive renovation, representing an investment of $7.5 million by Minor Hotels. All 156 rooms, as well as the public spaces, including the main entrance and porte cochere, have been renovated and now sport new contemporary designs and technological enhancements. The hotel’s open plan lobby blends reception, lounge, eateries and chill-out spaces. The layout of the guest bedrooms and bathrooms have been redesigned to ensure the best use of space. Room features and amenities include free wi-fi, a dedicated work station with media hub, LCD TVs with satellite news, sport and movie channels, and a rain shower. The hotel also offers a number of dining options, including The Conservatory, The Pantry, Savuti Grill and Mahogany.
Peermont’s Grand Palm Hotel, Casino and Convention Resort is 12 kilometres from Sir Seretse Khama International Airport and adjacent to the Gaborone International Convention Centre, which can accommodate up to 1,800 delegates. Well-appointed accommodation is offered in two hotels – the 188-key Peermont Walmont and the 149-key three-star Peermont Metcourt Inn – both of which grant guests access to all the facilities at The Grand Palm. The resort offers a casino, a Camelot health spa, The Boys Hair Salon and an outdoor area dedicated to keeping the children entertained.
The resort recently invested in a variety of new refurbishments to its Okavango and Moremi conference rooms at the Peermont Walmont, including an interior décor makeover and installation of wi-fi. Peermont also operates the Peermont Mondior in Gaborone.
Cresta Hotels currently has 11 hotels spread out across the country, including two in Francistown and two in Gaborone – Cresta President and Cresta Lodge catering for both the business and leisure traveller. If you’re looking for representation across the country, Cresta certainly has the biggest footprint, with its remaining properties in Jwaneng, Kasane, Mahalapye, Maun, Palapye, and Selebi-Phikwe. Its latest addition, Cresta Maun Hotel, is on the banks of the Thakalane River in Maun.
“The opening of this property brings our number of hotels in Maun to two, with our other property being the Cresta Riley’s in the CBD, two minutes from Maun Airport,” says Stutchbury, who hints at new developments to be unveiled in the new year.
The newest players in the Gaborone hotel market are South Africa-based City Lodge, which opened the Town Lodge – its two-star brand – in 2013, and Aquarian Tide, which opened along the A1 to Francistown in 2015 and offers 110 rooms.
Also new on the Gaborone scene is the boutique property Room50two, which opened in iTowers South with 54 upmarket rooms. Services include a 24- hour concierge, airport transfers and valet parking. Rooms are furnished with kitchenettes, high definition TVs with satellite channels, and complimentary wi-fi.
If you fancy your golf and have the time, give consideration to the four-star Phakalane Golf Estate Hotel Resort, which has 80 rooms and serviced apartments.
In terms of hotel development, the opening of the 148-room Hilton Garden Inn Gaborone in the evolving commercial business district has been delayed slightly and is now expected to welcome guests in mid-2018. Situated just 13 kilometres from Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, the hotel will offer a health club, outdoor swimming pool, an all-day dining restaurant, a bar, a 24- hour Pavilion Pantry, a 24-hour business centre, complimentary wi-fi, and more than 400 square metres of conference space.
Also in development is Protea Hotels by Marriott ’s first Botswana property, with a 160-room hotel due to open in Gaborone in 2018.
“Botswana is a young nation with its population expected to grow four times in the next 35 years,” says Alex Kyriakidis, President and Managing Director, Middle East and Africa for Marriott International.
The city hotel will be located in the new central business district of Gaborone surrounded by recently developed offices, retail facilities and offices. This follows the signing of a deal last year.
“With this sort of economic success and the positive outlook for the country, we certainly see strong value in this venture in Botswana,” says Kyriakidis.
Wi-fi connectivity is generally pretty good, and according to Clingham, most restaurants and public places offer it for free, while others have a 20-minute free period, after which vouchers are available for purchase. Quality hotels such as the aha Hotels & Lodges-managed Masa Square Hotel and Peermont ’s The Grand Palm offer free uncapped wi-fi, which seems to be the case with most of the hotels in the city.
The biggest issue appears to be speed, which can often be slow. Stutchbury warns not to expect the same high speeds found in Johannesburg, Lagos or Harare, but progress is apparently being made, with a lot of work going into upgrading wi-fi across Botswana. But travellers will be able to access their mail and keep up-to-date with work, even if they can’t stream video content. It is a good idea to get a local sim card to cut down on roaming costs.
“Exciting developments in the wi-fi space will be unveiled in 2018,” says Stutchbury, although he wasn’t forthcoming with more detail.
If you’re looking for somewhere outside your hotel to enjoy a meal, Clingham says that some of the nicest dining spots are in the CBD. In the same courtyard as Masa Square’s Don Carlos Restaurant and Carlito’s Café are Capello’s and Gourmet Grill.
“Nearby, there is Airport Junction Mall, Riverwalk and Game City. These places combine a chilled lifestyle, vibrant people, culture, food and art,” he says.
There is also the Beef Baron Rib and Grill, the Bai Sheng Restaurant, the Mokolwane Bistro and the Fig Tree at the Grand Palm.
“Botswana is a prime beef exporter, so make sure you try out a good steak from the menu if you love red meat,” says Stutchbury.
Cresta President serves SeSwaa, a local dish prepared from slowly cooked and pounded beef, usually served with local greens and a starch, which comes highly recommended. In iTowers you’ll find table50two, located on the 28th floor and the highest dining venue in Botswana. And on the 19th floor is Sky Lounge, which is getting decent reviews from patrons.
It is relatively easy to get around Gaborone and if you are in the city for over three days with several meetings lined up around the city, it’s a good idea to hire a car.
“Self-drive is a viable option,” says Clingham, “but due to cattle on the roads it is advisable to not drive at night.”
Otherwise, suggest to your business partners to meet you at your hotel where meeting facilities are available and wi-fi is usually stable.
“Cresta Lodge and Cresta President in Gaborone are both perfectly geared for the business traveller,” says Stutchbury. “We have a complimentary shuttle from the airport. Just let the hotel know prior to arrival to avoid waiting at the airport.”
Clingham notes that public transport in Botswana is geared towards the needs of the local populace and is confined to main roads between major population centres. Although cheap and reliable, it is of little use to the leisure traveller, as most of Botswana’s tourist attractions lie off the beaten track.
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 before departure. 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.