Making your own Maun Experience

The fifth instalment of My Maun Experience has shown tremendous growth and encouraged more Batswana to invest in local travel experiences

Rudy Steinbrenner

As Botswana’s annual holiday masses thronged an array of South African tourist destinations at the end of 2016, a growing number of young, hip Batswana bucked the trend, instead opting to pack their bags and head north of Botswana for the holidays- the final destination being Maun, a gateway to the Okavango Delta which itself is the crown jewel of Botswana’s tourism offering.
This is a good thing if recent 2010 world cup figures are anything to go by.  Batswana spend considerably when visiting neighbouring South Africa but little is known on how much they actually spend on visiting local tourist destinations, especially during peak holiday times. Maun specifically is often seen by local tourists as prohibitively expensive compared to crossing the border south and it is rare for upwardly mobile locals to spend time in what is one of the world’s most sought after tourist destinations, Botswana, their own backyard.
Botswana’s high-yield low-impact tourism model means that holidaying in Maun and the surrounding delta is often inhibitive, but for an intrepid number of young Batswana who have moved to claim their tourism  birth right,  the rallying call of  “My Maun Experience” (MME)  is helping to create a tourism experience that not only encourages Batswana to visit the destination but to also offer activities and experiences that speak to the internal tourist who may otherwise feel excluded from the current marketing of this destination.
Five years running, My Maun Experience has grown tremendously in terms of its total package, a feat that is all the more impressive considering the limited funding they receive to carry out this marketing exercise.  The four day “experience” is a combination of unique party events and corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities intended to create an enriching experience of not only the destination but also its people and culture.
The first day of activities saw Botswana’s most recognised sporting ambassadors Amantle Montsho, Dipsy Selolwane, Karabo Sibanda and Nijel Amos host Maun youth at the village stadium for a morning coaching clinic dedicated to athletics and soccer, an activity aimed at encouraging and resourcing the next generation of the country’s sporting talent.
According to MME organiser Dose Mosimanyane, “The workshops really show our commitment to looking at the village’s development holistically. The kids in our community don’t often get a chance to interact with sports people of this calibre and we are very thankful for them virtually volunteering their time to invest back in this community.”   The next two days of activities followed the sporting theme with the third Annual Maun Mountain bike race and the Maun marathon both for which participation has grown considerably despite their brief existence. Continuing the CSR component of the experience, residents and tourists participated in the annual clean-up campaign, another effort to inculcate the concept of low impact tourism and caring  for the environment which is key to maintaining the village economy.
The remainder of activities were dedicated to the festive mood, including the music festival which attracted a record audience and the calumination of the experience ending in the popular wine tasting festival along the banks of the Thamalakane river  in Chanoga village. This chill session was the conclusion of all activities and according Mosimanyane, the highlight of a weeklong experience.
For Batswana drawn to Maun by these activities, there were pleasant and unexpected things to do while visiting the village this past festive season. For 35-year-old Management Consultant, Lebogang Badiredi, forgoing her usual sojourn to Cape Town for Maun proved worthwhile. “I’ve been following My Maun Experience on Facebook for the past three years and this year my fiancée and I decided to take a chance and we have been blown away by how cosmopolitan Maun has become! We came here on a budget and were able to enjoy the complete offering of the area. Of course, we had to dig around for deals to allow us to do some of the things we thought we couldn’t afford like using independent operators who gave us great deals on game drives and boat cruises on the delta. The last time I was here, I came on business so this time I was able to explore more at my own leisure and found so many cool places to visit and eat. I’ve fallen in love with Kana Jang, a locally owned boutique eatery that embodies the free spirit of Maun’s hospitality. It was great to also see more franchise eateries which gave us loads of options in terms of eating on a budget,” she said.
23-year-old graphic designer, Reetsang Baleseng, is a recent transplant to Maun who had just spent two weeks in the village after learning about Maun’s festive buzz from social media. As she winds down her holiday at the iconic Old Bridge Backpackers she reflects, “This place is amazing! The air, the abundance of water and the laid-back vibe have me seriously contemplating moving from Gaborone to Maun. It’s inspiring and I see a lot of opportunities for my career. I’m starting to feel like a part of the Maun Experience movement because that’s what it is. It’s not just these great things to do, it’s a movement towards taking ownership of our tourism as a Motswana and writing my own chapter in that book.”
In conclusion, Mosimanyane had this to say about this year’s event: “The highlight though, was the clean-up campaign. First of all, the increase in number of people compared to last year. Even more moving was the response of the people we found at Big Tree when we went there to pick up litter. Everybody rose from their camp chairs and cars, asked us to give them gloves and refuse bags and they joined in. Going forward, we’d like to engage the kids more and give them more time. We would also like to have the clean-up campaign run for the whole year, not only during December holidays. More needs to be done to grow cycling in the North West and here were some really awesome surprises like the attendance of 400 metre sprinter Karabo Sibanda and yoga instructor Douglas Olsen who helped out at the coaching clinics.  We would like to thank everyone that came and a special thank you to all our sponsors.”