NATA, BOTSWANA — This past weekend we joined a select few media houses courtesy of Botswana Tourism Organization (BTO) for a well-deserved tourism excursion in Sowa Town ahead of Makgadikgadi Epic scheduled for this weekend from July 11th – 15th 2019.
The drive was long albeit exciting as our country offers sheer beauty and unparalleled landscapes. Botswana’s gateway to tourism destinations such as Maun, Kasane and the Okavango Delta has its toll gate by Nata, just over 200km North-East of the country’s second city, Francistown.
Nata is bustling with activity as many businesses have setup shop here. Quite notable too is that many people here have quit their blue collar jobs to pursue their passions, primarily motivated by their forefathers’ past ways of living.
Aptly tagged Makgadikgadi Epic Media pre-tour and organized by the BTO, the four-day expedition gave us time to marvel at all the attractions that make Sowa Town the ideal hosting place for this weekend’s activities.
We took a quadbike and burnt its exhaust pipes across the vast and intimidating pans, whilst enjoying the miles, the motion and the flat wide-open land. All this was done on a 150cc quadbike, where after enjoying the ride we made a pit-stop in the middle of flat and plain white sand spanning about 37 000km².
The Makgadikgadi Pans are the natural remnants of a once great lake that dried up, which is believed to have happened over 2,000 years ago and is now thought to be one of the largest salt pans in the world.
The usually dry and harsh shallow pans come alive during the summer rains when they fill up with water and attract a large number of flamingos, pelicans and many other migratory bird species.
The wide open lunar expanses of the pans are best explored on a guided quad bike safari tour and game drives where one revels in the feeling of escapism and isolated natural beauty.
One Nata native, Kabelo Gofhamodimo, aged 34 just like any other pupil at primary school had wanted to become an accountant or doctor, and true to his ambition he is an alumni of University of Cape Town (UCT).
“I always wanted to be an accountant or doctor but I chose business (accounting degree) at UCT and upon completion I worked at different organizations for 5 years, 3 years in accounting and 2 years in procurement respectively.” However, Gofhamodimo had to stop his academia related jobs and begin his calling – to run his own tourism-inspired business.
“My business is called ATV adventurer and we started in August 2018. We provide quad bike safaris around Botswana. We are currently focused on the Makgadikgadi Pans. We employ one permanent employee and 9 casual employees. The business also has 1 contractor, a caterer with 6 employees. So we are performing above par for a company that still has to celebrate its first anniversary. Our target market so far has been the locals; from individuals, business retreats, social groups and mostly, about 90% of them come from Gaborone and Francistown.”
Having unearthed the quad-biking niche in the crystal plains of Makgadikgadi, ATV adventurer also added other activities to their package after their realisation that most of their clients want to spend a night or more especially during weekends.
“We further provide two type of tours which include a scheduled 2-night camping retreat comprising of a Makgadikgadi quad bike tour, canoeing along the Nata river, and horse riding as our activities for P1750 per person sharing and a 1.5 hour long scenic and obstacle course quad bike excursion along the river bank in Nata for P500 per person.”
Nonetheless, all this fun sounds expensive to establish hence the rampant plight from Batswana that tourism establishments are expensive for Batswana to explore and enjoy.
Gofhamodimo concurred with Batswana sentiments though he explained that one needs to come up with a proper savings’ plan to realise their dreams. In him starting the business he noted that he had saved up to P400, 000 and the Youth Development Fund (YDF) assisted him with P100 000.
“The business started with assets to the value of about P500 000, 80% of which was self-financed, and 20% financed through YDF. It is a very expensive business to run as it requires scaling to reach profitability and all complimentary services and assets in place in order to deliver well on the promise. So far there has been a really good response from the local market. This will enable us to be self-sufficient with an asset base within a year allowing us to make our tours more affordable to Batswana and profitable at the same time.”
Gofhamodimo also has his sights on growing his brainchild idea to appeal to international tourists and expanding to other parts of Botswana.
“We hope to take this adventure tourism to other areas of Botswana, and sell our service to international clients. However we cannot do this alone, we invite travel and tour business, and tour operators to partner with us. This is slowly gaining momentum and we believe we will have plenty of partners by the end of the year,” he said.