High-end tourism plays a crucial role in sustaining the unique and pristine Okavango Delta. Tessa Reed speaks to Wilderness Safaris’ Simon Stobbs about the experience on offer.
Botswana’s tourism model is based strongly on bringing in fewer people with a greater spend per person, to lessen the impact of people in pristine environments, says Simon Stobbs, Wilderness Safaris Business Manager for North America.
Specifically in the country’s Okavango Delta, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site, the strategy protects a pristine environment, while also ensuring a very exclusive experience. Stobbs says the Delta really warrants this strategy because it is such a sensitive environment.
The Delta, and many of Botswana’s wilderness areas, is operated on a concession model, where operators lease an area from the country’s Land Board, giving them exclusive use of the area. The concession model places strict limits on the number of beds and vehicles within an area.
Stobbs explains that, within a concession, an operator will be granted a certain number of beds and a certain number of vehicles. These numbers are based on ensuring a sustainable and minimal footprint in the area. “Obviously, the more beds and vehicles you put in an area, the greater the impact on that area,” he says.
The result is that guests can often enjoy big game sightings to themselves. Stobbs says that because there are so few vehicles in such large areas, the Delta doesn’t seem busy. For example, Wilderness Safaris Abu Concession is roughly 180 000 hectares and has two lodges: Seba Camp and Abu Camp, says Stobbs.
By way of comparison, some private game reserves less than half this size can have upwards of 15 luxury loges.
Commenting on further development in the Delta, Stobbs says the Botswana government has been very careful how it manages the area. He says in 2008 a management plan was put together. The plan distinguishes between pristine zones, where further development is limited, and semi pristine zones around the periphery, where further development will be allowed.
Stobbs says that while there are still some concessions that are under-utilised, the concession model carefully manages how further development takes place. “I don’t think the impacts will be negative because it is based on a sound management plan.”
The Delta’s unique offering is also because it is a dynamic destination, thanks to the flood waters, says Stobbs. He says that, because of the changing water levels, the Delta changes from year to year and throughout the year. When the flood levels are lower, a greater area can be traversed by vehicle, offering excellent opportunities to spot wildlife. When the water levels are higher, boating and mokoro activities also offer a unique experience.
Stobbs says that although a trip to the Delta is described as a “once in a lifetime” trip, the experience offered ensures that many people who visit destination return again. “It’s the kind of place where once you have been once you are going to want to go again and again.”