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PostPosted: Sat Jul 10, 2010 7:08 pm 
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PARK CAMPING FEES ‘A RIP OFF '

By Molefhi Manyepedza

Thousands of self-drive tourists who came to Botswana for the “World Cup holidays” that end this weekend were stunned to discover that camping fees in national parks and game reserves had in some cases increased 5-fold – and no one had told them. The Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism has privatised camping sites, and this has resulted in the new owners increasing the fees.

Even Botswana residents have to pay the increased charges while SADC citizens and international tourists are being saddled with even higher rates in South African rands and United States dollars.

Tourists say the increases amount to “a rip-off” and many doubted whether they would want to return in the future.

They say that in addition to the privatised campsite fees, they also have to contend with increased park entry fees, surly attendants at entrance gates, and unhelpful Wildlife and National Parks staff at most offices where payments have to be made. In addition, they are more often than not told particular sites are “full” but when they undertake day visits, they discover the sites are actually empty of campers.

The campsite owners, who have signed five year leases, claim they are providing more facilities than what the department of Wildlife and Tourism offered and it was for this reason that fees had gone up.

In the fees structure of the department, citizens paid P10 each, residents P30 and non- residents P120. Now the fees in the privately run sites are between P45 and P400 a night depending on the campsite.

Another major concern for tourists appears to be the attitude of staff.

A safari operator told The Ngami Times this week: “I was in Savuti on Thursday and Friday nights and on Saturday had stopped at the newly privatised campsite for a stretch.

One of my guests asked to use the toilet - and was refused.

“This got me thinking. Just imagine if it was one of the European Union (EU) members who actually donated that entire campsite and gate to the Botswana government to now be refused access to it as we were not staying there. It's unbelievable!”

This campsite is owned by the SKL company. A similar incident took place recently at the South Gate of the Moremi Game Reserve where gate staff refused to allow a safari operator to use the ablutions. He then went into the bush and was chased away by an official who told him “you cannot urinate here.” The operator asked “so where should I go” and continued what he was doing. Three years ago the EU gave the Botswana government a grant of millions of euro in order to improve the national parks' entrance gates, staff housing, ablutions and office accommodation.

The public relations officer in the Ministry, Archibald Ngakaagae, told The Ngami Times that Wildlife and National Parks “does not have camping sites within game reserves and national parks in the country any longer as these have all been privatised. “Private companies charge their customers according to services they offer and the ministry does not have the authority to decide how much they should charge,” said Ngakaagae.

It also became apparent that it is up to the campsite owner to decide on the fees, just as the camps and lodge owners put up rates for the rooms per night in the Okavango delta, for instance.

Babedi Charles, of new owners Kwalate Safaris, agreed that their rates are higher than those previously charged by the department but said this was so because the rates are reasonable as they are on a par with the services provided to their clients – “cleaning the campsites for customers before setting up tents and after they leave the national parks is among services that we provide. We will shortly be opening a restaurant at Chobe National Park.” A second company which won a privatisation lease is Xomae Group. It has also been pointed out that Wildlife and Tourism previously provided only the camping ground and in some instances ablution blocks “but private companies provide much more.” The Xomae Group controls the Third Bridge, Wilderness, Baines Baobab and Nxai South campsites. Kwalate Safaris has not advised this newspaper which sites it controls. A request for campsite information was sent to the Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) but no reply was received by the time of going to press.


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