Wilderness Safaris’unwavering commitment to Botswana’s commerce community, culture and conservation

8 July 2020 – Having pioneered ecotourism throughout Africa for over 35 years, Wilderness Safaris continues to demonstrate commitment to driving sustainable economic growth in Botswana since it began operations in the country in 1983. In Botswana, Wilderness operates through a network of 12 active companies and subsidiaries, comprising up to 12% of the safari beds in the northern part of the country.

Wilderness’ investment in the prosperity of Botswana and her people remains unwavering, with considerable impact documented thus far. The Independent Centre for Applied Research (CAR) was contracted to conduct an assessment of the contribution that the Wilderness Group made to Botswana’s economy during the 2018 financial year, highlights of which are shared here.

Wilderness’ contributions to the national economy were assessed in terms of the following five standard economic measures:

1.    Value added: In 2016 (the most recent year for which reliable estimates exist), the tourism industry was believed to add value (equivalent to contribution to GDP) totalling BWP7.7 billion, equivalent to 4.9% of GDP. Value generated by Wilderness companies in the country in that year was estimated at P258 million, equivalent to 3.4% of total tourism value added.

2.    Government revenues: Wilderness companies paid to Government and Government institutions an average of P73 million per annum (range: P65 million to P87 million) over the period 2014 to 2018, mostly from company tax, VAT and resource royalties. This is equivalent to, on average, 0.5% of total Government domestic revenues. 

3.    Foreign exchange and current account balance: Tourism is by far the second largest source of export earnings for Botswana, after diamonds, accounting for around 15% of total exports of goods and services. Given the need to diversify exports, this is a significant contribution. In 2016, Wilderness companies in Botswana earned P423 million from sales to non-residents. This represented 4% of Botswana’s tourism export earnings that year. In addition, Wilderness repatriates profits earned by subsidiaries outside the country. These averaged P56 million per annum over the last five years and had the effect of increasing external earnings by 12%. 

Finally, Wilderness sales outlets in other countries generated sales worth US$18.4 million (P187.6 million) to tourism products in Botswana that are owned by other companies unrelated to Wilderness.  This is equivalent to approximately one third of the average income in Botswana of Wilderness companies over the period 2014 to 2018.

4.    Distribution of income: Of the P565 million average net revenues in Botswana over the period 2013 to 2018, 67% was retained in Botswana. Of the balance that was distributed externally, 80% was in the form of import expenses. 88% of the tourism value added by Wilderness (net revenue less inputs consumed) is retained in Botswana. The major beneficiaries of value generated are future investment and growth (31%), Government (24%) and citizen employees (18%). It is notable that revenues to Government exceeded those to Wilderness shareholders by an average factor of nearly two, considerably more in some years. Finally, the average annual capital expenditure amounted to P85 million p.a.

5.    Employment and wages: Wilderness employed 1 053 people in Botswana, providing salaries and other benefits to the value of P116 million. This was equivalent to around 5% of employment in the hotel and accommodation industry, or 0.6% of private sector employment, and between 2% and 3% of formal employment in Ngamiland. It is believed that 80% of camp employees were originally recruited from local communities, offering important local job opportunities. Indirect employment is also created through the purchase of goods and services from other businesses (worth P159 million in 2018).

According to estimates in the UN World Tourism Organisation Tourism Satellite Account, these would add a further approximately 500 jobs. Wilderness operations are more labour intensive than the non-mining private sector, creating 3.9 jobs (compared with a sector average of 2.2 jobs) per P1 million of value added (2017/18). With unemployment in Botswana as a key concern nationally, job creation is an important contribution. The report further notes that females represent 45.5% of the workforce. Employment of foreigners has declined from 10.5% in 2015 to 7.4% in 2018.

Said Wilderness Holdings’ Chief Sustainability Officer, Derek de la Harpe: “Developing export-focused economic growth activity, with extensive job creation, is central to the transformation of the economy from one dependent upon minerals, particularly diamonds.

Decentralising economic activity away from Gaborone and providing economic opportunities in rural and more remote areas is also important. In these respects, the Wilderness operations play an important role in contributing to the Vision 2036’s Transformation Agenda, in particular by: providing a new and growing source of export earnings; contributing to non-mineral GDP growth; helping to diversify Government’s sources of fiscal revenues; creating employment in rural areas; and providing demand for the supply of goods and services in north-west Botswana.

There is of course much more to be achieved and we are by no means done in our efforts to play a meaningful role in Botswana’s socio-economic growth”.

Further impacts noted in the CAR report included:

o   In 2018, Wilderness paid lease fees amounting to P5.3 million to two communities from which it leases concessions.

o   Wilderness’ non-profit partner, Children in the Wilderness (CITW), runs and supports Eco-Clubs in 15 schools in Botswana. Since 2013, 140 teachers have received training from the CITW Eco-Mentor and teacher training programmes.

o   Wilderness mobilises and administers charitable support to community development and welfare initiatives through contributions from guests and other donors. The quantum of these varies from year to year, averaging P413 000 over the review period but exceeding P1 million in 2018.

“The future of Wilderness is inextricably linked to the maintenance and improvement of the biodiversity and other resources of the areas across Botswana in which the company operates, as well as the goodwill of the communities living in and around these areas.  Our economic interests are completely aligned with our conservation and community development objectives, and this is reflected in our 4Cs sustainability platform, which sees concurrent efforts in the dimensions of Commerce, Community, Culture and Conservation, and in the efforts outlined above. We are looking forward to growing our positive ecotourism footprint further and creating even more sustainable conservation economies in Africa in the future”, Derek concluded. 

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BOTSWANAUNPLUGGED is an exclusive online news and lifestyle magazine created for upwardly mobile citizens with distinguished tastes. Based in Gaborone, Botswana; UNPLUGGED is a quintessential online news and lifestyle medium (platform) which strives to speak to the soul of the country’s upscale lifestyle by setting its sights on the passion that permeates our region.

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