The Botswana Guides Association (BOGA) has warned government against dragging its feet in assisting tour guide companies financially. According to the organization’s Chairman, Kenson Kgaga, some of the companies are no longer able to pay tour guides after government stopped wage subsidies from the COVID-19 Relief Fund.
In a telephone interview, Kgaga said companies in Ngamiland have given government an ultimatum to assist them or risk workers being laid off. He disclosed that more than 1 000 tour guides were forced to go home last year while some are currently on half-salaries.
“Mine is one of the individual companies that have stopped operations because I am unable to pay rent and staff,” Kgaga said. “The situation is very tense and we are sincerely appealing to government to assist companies with access to funding.”
The government could help companies to stay afloat by lending them money without levying an interest. A grace period could also be extended to enable companies to source funding from financial institutions, he suggested. “It is difficult for companies to source funding at this stage because even a grace period of six months is too short. It is going to take us a bit longer to recover,” said Kgaga.
Should assistance not be forthcoming as a matter of urgency, well over 2 000 people could lose their jobs before the end of next month, he warned.
The Chairman of the North West District Council, Kebareeditse Ntsogotho, has confirmed that tour guides in the region have been losing their jobs and returning home to face bleak prospects. “The bad situation has affected tour guides to a point where a lot of them have since returned home,” said Ntsogotho.
He added that the tourism sector is on the brink of collapse. “Unemployment levels in the region have suddenly gone up,” he noted. “We have always had high unemployment rates but things have gone from bad to worse. Companies simply have nothing to give their employees.”
Last year, the Federal Republic of Germany donated P65.8 million (4.8 million euros) to the Ministry of the Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism towards supporting the tourism sector which has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding was an immediate measure to assist communities cope with the detrimental impact of the pandemic and help with infrastructural development within the tourism sector.
A total of P7 136 310 (542 359.56 euros) was disbursed to communities for payment of wage subsidies to freelance tourism operators, including mokoropolers, community guides and chefs for a period of six months from July to December 2020.
However, Kgaga said the wage subsidies went to employees while companies were saddled with bills to pay. If the tour guide sector collapsed, it is feared that there would be a detrimental impact on the tourism sector with lodges and hotels experiencing low volumes of international clients.