Okavango Wilderness Safaris (OWS) is pleased to report that, following the significant disruptions to the business caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, business is returning to normal.
Having had to, at various stages in the process, suspend operations at some of our camps, all are now open and operational again, with the exception of Kalahari Plains Camp which opens in December 2022.
Accordingly, the vast majority of staff are back at work, following significant periods spent at home on reduced pay. All staff back at work are also back on full pay, following the reductions of various levels that were required to be implemented during the pandemic to preserve cash.
A small upward adjustment in pay, intended to cushion staff against the effects of the inflation now being experienced, has also been awarded with effect from May 2022.
We are grateful to our staff for their understanding and support during what was undoubtedly a most difficult time for them. We are pleased to record that all staff in Botswana have received at least two doses of vaccine and we are assisting them to obtain boosters as well.
Bringing the camps back up to normal operations has entailed significant expense to restock with supplies that had become depleted over time, and to ensure all assets were in suitable working order. This cost has been exacerbated by the supply chain constraints being experienced worldwide and also by dramatic increases in costs.
Notwithstanding the significant challenges to the business experienced during the pandemic, OWS continued with efforts to contribute to development of local communities and conservation. Specifically:
- All financial and other obligations to government agencies and communities, arising under leases, were fully honoured;
- Thanks to the generosity of our Group Chairman’s foundation and other donors, food parcels amounting to 377 tonnes in total, and to the value exceeding P4 million, were distributed and have positively impacted more than 36 500 needy beneficiaries in communities around the country, particularly northern Botswana;
- 5 tonnes of seed was acquired and distributed to farmers in Ngamiland to help support Government’s desire for food security within our communities;
- The company continues to commit to the ploughing of large tracts of land, in cluster fields, for rural farmers in both the Sankoyo and Seronga to Gudigwa areas;
- Agreement has recently been reached with the North West District Council to build two new classrooms and two ablution blocks at Eretsha Primary School. This will be funded via successful fundraising efforts;
- OWS, in partnership with the Ngamiland and Okavango District Health Management Teams, HATAB and other prominent lodge and helicopter companies, led an initiative to advance vaccination of tourism workers. We sponsored our aircraft, nurses and OWS staff. In excess of 90% of remotely located tourism workers were double vaccinated and the initiative also incorporated town-based tourism workers and people in certain remote villages.
- OWS has acquired a parcel of land for which it intends to develop an Integrated Farm at Shokomokwa which will be used to produce food for staff and guests in our camps, in further support of Government’s objectives to increase domestic food production for food security. This will be a model farm that we will aim to impart skills to local farms too;
- OWS is working and engaging with the Gumare Council for the drilling and fitting of 6 boreholes for remote settlements around the areas of Mokgacha, Seronga, Gudigwa, Eretsha and Beetsha. A borehole has also already been equipped and fitted at Shokomokwa;
- We have taken heed of the call by Government for greater focus to be made on finding avenues for local economic generation to be developed up and down the tourism value chain. We can proudly say that 90% of the OpEX and CapEX for our lodge business is spent with Botswana registered businesses. Our current push is to develop and grow 100% citizen owned SMMEs to enable even more direct citizen participation in the tourism sector. We are actively engaging with suppliers from across the world to partner with Botswana businesses to enable us to further heighten economic activity in our sector;
- OWS, and our non-profit partner Children in the Wilderness (CITW), recently hosted the successful resumption of the Nedbank Tour de Tuli. This entailed more than 350 cyclists participating in a mountain biking adventure from South Africa, through Zimbabwe and Botswana, and back into South Africa, through the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area. Profits from this event go towards funding of CITW;
- We are also pleased to announce that, as a concrete demonstration of the return to normality, our Gaborone sales office will be re-opening on 1 September 2022. This will allow for a heightened push for more domestic visitors to our camps in Botswana.
As we finally see the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic effects of it we are starting to see new bookings growing at satisfying rates once again. These new bookings are being added to those rolled over from 2020 and 2021 owing to tourists’ inability to travel. Premium products are once again demonstrating their resilience to external shocks by bouncing back quickly to previous occupancy levels.
The lower-priced products are also recovering, albeit at a slower rate. The returning of visitors to Botswana and the region is a strong sign that recovery is on the horizon. At OWS we are optimistic that things will recover.
However, we believe that the post COVID-19 pandemic will not see the world return to business as usual. What we see is a growing need for all organisations to be agile and proactive to tackle all future challenges. OWS plans to remain an active player in finding solutions to the benefit of all our stakeholders.
Therefore, following the significant investments made during the pandemic to strengthen the business, the Directors are optimistic for the future and look forward to Okavango Wilderness Safaris being able to continue contributing to the development of Botswana’s economy, the prosperity of our staff and local communities, as well as to conservation.