‘Is tourism Botswana’s hope amidst dwindling mining fortunes?’
This was the official theme for Business Botswana’s 24th annual Northern Trade Fair held at the organisation’s spacious Showgrounds in Francistown’s Gerald Estates location from the 23rd to the 27th of May.
However, it did not take long for that theme to be disputed.
Speaking at the fair’s official opening, the event’s guest speaker, the Managing Director of Okavango Diamond Company (ODC), Marcus ter Haar stressed mining – in particular diamonds – still has a ‘massive part to play’ in the country’s economy.
“With the recent challenges experienced by BCL and Tati Nickel mine, people have lost hope in the mining sector.
“However, I want to evoke a renewed sense of confidence for mining in Botswana. There is so much potential for diamonds – I genuinely believe there is a future for the industry,” said the man who was appointed to ODC’s top post in August last year.
“So much is happening in the mining space at the moment. Demand for diamonds is growing against a flat supply – a trend that is set to continue for the next 20 years at least.
“There is a new consumer base rapidly emerging in countries like China, Japan as well as parts of Africa; Botswana is well placed to take advantage of that demand,” highlighted ter Haar, who has previously worked for De Beers and Debswana and boasts over ten years experience in the diamond industry.
“Diamonds are not coming to an end any time soon,” he continued, pointing out that Debswana’s Cut-9 project would extend the life of Jwaneng’s open pit mine to at least 2034 whilst a similar project in Orapa, Cut-3, could potentially keep the mine running until around 2050.
Advocating what he described as ‘exploit and explore’, the eloquent businessman added, “We must use our resources now to generate ideas and initiatives for the future.”
Turning his attention to the trade fair’s ‘tourism’ aspect, ter Haar, who serves on the Wilderness Holdings board, revealed that international tourism grew by seven percent last year.
Despite this seemingly positive news, he warned it was time the country explored other opportunities in tourism to meet the varied needs of the modern-day traveller.
“Botswana is the best in the world at Eco-tourism, with the Okavango the jewel in the crown – but it’s saturated,” he said, noting it was essential to take advantage of emerging types of tourism, such as Food tourism, Wellness tourism – where people travel for operations and medical procedures – and finally, Experiential tourism, where the traveller imbeds themselves in a completely different culture.
The guest speaker ended by proposing a new theme: ‘In addition to tourism and mining, where are the opportunities for economic growth in Botswana?’ – a proposal that was met with widespread approval from the majority of those in attendance.
He suggested one solution could be in successfully exploring the abundant talent of the country’s human capital.
“There is huge hunger for work in Botswana. We need to open up that talent and let it thrive. At the moment it feels like it’s being supressed,” concluded ter Haar.
Earlier, in his welcome remarks, Business Botswana President, Gobusamang Keebine, had emphasised the importance and potential of the fair.
“Many businesses, from micro, medium to large, have benefited from this initiative. Indeed, many businesses here today, if not all, started out by merely trading at a stall at this Trade Fair and today they are proud contributors to Botswana’s economy,” stated the recently appointed President.
“The Northern Trade Fair is a great platform to have face-to-face communications for both exhibitors and potential clients and can act as a powerful impetus for the growth of business,” added Keebine, who finished with a simple but meaningful message, “To all businesses exhibiting here today, this is your time!”