Gov’t re-awards Wilderness concessions as Chobe hangs in the balance

  • Two companies control concessions in the Okavango
  • Both companies benefitted from automatic renewal
  • Wilderness upbeat after gov’t renews leases


Government has re-awarded lucrative concessions in the Okavango Delta to Botswana’s most pristine eco-tourism outfit, Wilderness Holdings Limited, and chances are high that another lucrative concession will be re-awarded to another predominant company, Chobe Holdings Limited.

Announcing financial results for the year ended 28 February 2019, Wilderness revealed that concessions upon which Vumbura Plains and Little Vumbura camps are situated had been awarded, although the lease agreement had not yet been finalised. Leases for these concessions had expired but the renewal means that Wilderness will continue to profit from these lucrative concessions.

Wilderness alone makes more money than any other company from the Okavango Delta, a restricted tourism destination with the most endangered wildlife, birdlife and exclusive natural beauty. The company has almost 20 camps in the Okavango Delta, most of which are the most expensive, charging exorbitant fees of between P8 000 and P20 000 per night per person. Amongst these is Vumbura Plains, which was re-awarded to Wilderness recently. Vumbura Plains Camp is located on NG 22 Concession area in the delta. The average rack rate is USD1 242 (around P13 000) per person per night sharing. Another concession that has been given to Wilderness houses Little Vumbura Camp, located in the Kwedi Concession in northern Okavango Delta. The camp has six ensuite luxury tents charging USD903 (P10 000) per night per person.

Concessions in the Okavango Delta are enjoyed by a handful of foreign controlled companies. Chobe Holdings Limited, through its subsidiaries Desert & Delta and Ker & Downey, also profits highly from the delta. Chobe’s lease for Xugana Island Lodge expired on 31 December 2018. “We remain in occupation and the lodge fully operational pending renewal. Non-renewal of this lease would have a negative impact on the group’s profitability. However, the company’s directors are confident that the expired lease will be renewed under terms and conditions that are acceptable to the group,” CEO and Deputy Chairman of Chobe, Jonathan Gibson, revealed when announcing the company’s financial results for the period ending 28 February 2019.
Gibson stated clearly that should government choose not to renew the lease concession, profits will decline. Xugana Island Lodge is located in the Shinde Concession, eastern Okavango and it charges at USD510 per night (Over P5000 per night).

Wilderness and Chobe, which both have an association with former president Ian Khama, enjoyed automatic renewal of concessions, which most in the tourism sector believed was favouritism. Khama has shares in a Wilderness subsidiary while his nephew Dale ter Haar is a director at Chobe.

It was announced in last year’s annual report that leases for the concessions upon which Mombo, Little Mombo and Xigera are located had been renewed by authorities at the tourism ministry, that was headed the by Tshekedi Khama. Lease concessions in which Mombo, Little Mombo, Xigera,Vumbura Plains and Little Vumbura camps are located expired in mid-2014, according to information released by the ecotourism outfit. These were not renewed until the current financial year, save for Vumbura Plains and Little Vumbura. The two have since been renewed also. Chobe has also enjoyed such renewals from government.