Hosted by Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) in Kasane last week, this year’s Botswana Travel and Tourism Expo (BBTE) was the biggest so far attracting 160 agents and 124 local tour operators.
The expo started with a pre-tour around Botswana to allow international agents and local operators to experience various tourism products that the country has to offer.
Before the end of the highly successful event, Archie Mokoka had a chat with BTO’s Executive Manager, Jillian Blackbeard about the exponential growth of the calendar tourism event.
Q. What is the BTTE all about?
We are creating a platform to do business. We do it at the beginning of December because we know people are booking their holidays for next year January to March or even 2020 so this is a good time to do it.
Local companies had booked stalls to do business with agents.
Most are discussing their rates and how many people they are going to be bringing and where they are going to come from at what season.
Most tourists want an itinerary to understand what type of lodges Botswana offers.
For example an agent from Italy would meet 30 Botswana companies so that when they put together holiday packages for their clients they would be able to choose the right camps, lodges and facilities for their clients.
Q. Is it working though?
We are actually doing interviews with all the operators and they say BTTE was probably their best show.
They do probably 30% of their annual business here.
Some of the smaller operators had a difficulty selling to the agents so next year we are going to embark on a marketing readiness programme for anybody who wants to become more ready for the international market.
We will teach them how to make appointments, how to sell your product, how to market it, how to get their websites up and running, set up credit card facilities.
In that way we can ensure that everybody benefits from BTTE, not just the large-scale operators
Q. Is BTTE growing?
Definitely BTTE is growing. When we started it six years ago, there were fewer than 200 in total of both agents and operators and this year we’ve had over 450 people at this event.
It’s growing every year and next year it is definitely going to be bigger. We are going to open it up to non-hosting buyers; those people we don’t pay for to come here and they still come anyway.
Everywhere we go, people talk about BTTE.
This year we even had someone from We Are Africa, Which is one of the largest meeting trade shows coming to benchmark.
So I think it’s a concept that’s growing.
It would be nice to have this event somewhere else in Botswana but Kasane right now has the capacity that we would like to showcase.
Q. Which countries are the biggest markets?
The biggest market in terms of revenue is the US, which makes up 52% followed by England, Netherlands and Germany.
But yes we do invite those agents and they make up quite a lot of people who come but we want to increase our footprint.
In order to grow tourism in Botswana you can’t just look at maintaining those markets, you have to explore new markets.
Q. Which new markets in particular?
This year we have invited many agents from Asia, especially Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.
We’ve also expanded to Australia and New Zealand as well as some of the BRICS economies.
Canada, the Middle East and Scandinavian countries are also part of our growing markets.
The idea is not only to retain traditional markets but also to open up new markets to create more opportunities for tourism growth.
Q. You had workshops yesterday. Tell us about that.
Yeah, We had destination workshops.
We do that because when people talk about Botswana and they don’t know the country, they might only talk about the Okavango Delta but there is so much more and we want to educate them that there is more to Botswana than the delta.
We had workshops on Central Kalahari for example or Kalahari trans frontier, Thuli Block and Linyanthi.
We also have a chance to talk about Gaborone and other cultural destinations so that when they go back to their countries they are better able to sell Botswana.
Q. What can you say to new operators or aspirants?
To new operators coming in the business, we are saying to you; if you have a new business BTTE is the place to come to and it’s not just for networking with the agents.
We have everybody in the industry coming together, so you can learn from somebody who is established in the business as well.
In the morning we had a local operators’ workshop where we brought together BTO’s marketing, our investment arm, D.O.T, BEDIA, HATAB, Business Botswana to talk to operators.
It gives the local operators an opportunity to grow their business and to understand tourism better.
Q. How are you going to grow BTTE further?
One of the things we are going to look at next year to grow BTTE is regional marketing, which means bringing in regional marketing companies who will sell Botswana and create an opportunities for some of the smaller local businesses.
For example; if you have a small lodge, event or small safari, we know that regional marketing agencies would be better placed to sell you.
This will be a good way to expand and grow small businesses.