Botswana: bring online tourism home
By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana
Tourism to Botswana is reported to be booming, but the country still lacks a thriving online tourism industry, with only a handful of local web developers and a dearth of home-grown e-tourism sites.
A random attempt to seek information about tourist destinations and resorts in Botswana is painstaking. The information available locally is threadbare to say the least.
If available, it is readily abundant on websites that are housed outside the country, a state of affairs that does not augur well with most visitors, both, local and international. More than forty years after independence, Botswana’s tourism database is still in the hands of outside tour operators, an issue that stakeholders say should be addressed as a matter of urgency in this day of advanced information and communication technology bearing in mind that Botswana is a middle-income-rated country.
Commenting on the issue, the CEO of the Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority (BEDIA), Lameck Ntekela, said the issue was a “catastrophe”, which calls for concerted efforts to have it addressed.
“My own opinion is that we do have our own sites particularly those that are operated locally by our own people in the sector. However, the majority of websites with information on Botswana comes from outside. This is because these outside hosts’ servers and the domain names are administered by the USA and the UK,” said Ntekela without further clarification.
I spoke to Ari Kalmari, of the AikaGroup, which is a Finnish development consulting company doing work for the government of Botswana on ICT related issues.
Kalmari is the project advisor with the Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) and seem to have an immeasurable amount of information about the state of web development, ICT and related issues in Botswana.
I prodded him to quantify on the number of web development firms in the country. Kalmari said there were roughly about 12 companies that are doing web development professionally in Botswana. However he added: “There are probably 10-15 ICT companies doing web development on part time basis.”
Marginal web development growth
Kalmari said there was “a very marginal growth” in as far as the number of people launching their sites for e-commerce or on-line bookings for tourism purposes were concerned because this was a fairly new area that was still being explored.
“e-Commerce website launches have grown in the past five years we have been operating especially since FNB introduced the first online payment gateway in Botswana. However, it is still a new concept and companies are still coming to terms with the idea and how it can be used in their businesses,” explained Kalmari.
In addition, “industry still has to define strategies to ensure they have formidable fulfillment processes to build confidence in e-Commerce.” As for the availability of relevant skills in the country to enable the development and growth of the ICT sector, Kalmari explained: “There are development skills in php/mySQL technologies, but experience is vastly lacking. Some skills are available within the developed companies in the sector.” However, he continued that there are not enough development skills as most developers know how to develop site but not e-commerce enabled sites and associated services.
Coming to the contentious issue of the non-availability of e-tourism related sites in the country which are outnumbered by foreign based sites, the government consultant had this to say on the issue, “This has largely been due to the fact that e-Commerce has only been introduced in Botswana two years ago. Before that, the tourism industry had no choice but to use foreign banks and service providers to link them to payment gateways. The realization is slowly creeping in that it can be done locally and money can be received in Botswana Pula.”
However, Kalmari explained that the other reason for this was “Because local tourism sites were not being promoted enough to the local companies to use, and the legacy of tourism bookings was effectively done outside Botswana. On the other hand, he noted that the tourism industry was not being controlled by Batswana (locals) therefore; they use their friends outside the country. Government should require bookings to be made locally and promote local sites.”
Kalmari added that there is also a lack of finance for companies who want to develop local platforms for tourism in the country.