Friday 18 November 2005

Do we want tourists or not?

Do we really want tourists to visit Botswana? Do we really? Are we sure?

We all know that our economy urgently requires diversification, that tourism has been identified as our great hope for the future and that we have some of the greatest tourist attractions in the world. We all know that tourists are already visiting Botswana and bringing with them foreign currency, international interest and can go a long way towards countering the negative coverage we may have received over the last couple of years.

So, given all that, why do we go out of our way to offend them?

Why do we treat them with contempt, discourtesy and disrespect?

So perhaps you don’t believe it? Perhaps you think that we treat them well? Here are two stories that were reported to us in the last couple of months.

At a hotel in Maun eight foreign tourists in a restaurant were completely ignored for ages by the owner and staff. When they finally began to show signs of getting up and leaving in protest at not being served, what did the owner do? Did he apologise, ask them what he could do to help, engage them in conversation and make them feel welcome? No. Did he offer them a snack and a free drink while they waited? No, funnily enough he didn’t.

He watched them leave.

So what are those foreign tourists telling their friends and relatives in their home country right now? Are they telling them that they came to a great country with courteous and friendly people who were really proud to welcome them to Botswana? Not a chance! They’re laughing at us, right now as you’re reading this.

The second story came from Kasane. Two foreign tourists had booked their stay at a leading hotel there in advance and had paid a deposit of P1,500. However shortly before they arrived they were forced to cut short their stay from three days to two because the travel agent had made a mix up with flights. The hotel was fine with this but insisted that the deposit they had paid was for three nights, not two and that the P500 that related to the third night could not be offset against their bill. They were told that they should pay the hotel the extra P500 cash instead and then claim back this amount from the travel agent when they were back in their home country.

After a lot of argument the hotel eventually cancelled P500 of totally unrelated items from their bill, like meals and drinks to compensate them for the deposit they had paid.

OK, so we don’t really understand this either. Does this make ANY sense to you? The point is why on earth should the tourists have to bother with all this? They had paid a deposit and that amount should be deducted from the bill. End of story. If the hotel have accounting and cash receipting problems that is not the customer’s problem!

It’s obviously beyond the scope of this column to comment on government economic policy, the diversification of the economy and how exactly to run a tourist centre but there are times when we at Consumer Watchdog really wonder whether some hotels and restaurants are actively trying to sabotage our tourism industry. They seem to be going out of their way to send tourists home with the very lowest impression of Botswana.

Is it really too much to ask that we treat all visitors, whether domestic or international, to excellent service? It doesn’t need to be ingratiating, fawning and servile. Regardless of where they come from most visitors just want a smile, a friendly welcome and staff that actually show an interest in looking after them.

One thing that perhaps we should all remember is that the vast majority of the tourists that come to Botswana aren’t millionaires. They’re not Bill Gates, they’re just ordinary people like you and me who have probably saved up for ages to have a once in a lifetime holiday that they hope to remember for the rest of their lives. The sort of holiday they’ll tall their grandchildren about.

As we’ve said before, contrary to what some people say the customer is NOT king or queen. The customer is just another guy who deserves good treatment. Everyone deserves it whether they live here or are a tourist, whether they are rich or poor, whether they are black or white. We all deserve the very best treatment.

However as we mentioned at the beginning of this article, foreign tourists may end up being our bread and butter, our pap and seswa. We absolutely must really examine the way we treat these visitors who may keep our economy going in the future.

We call on all the relevant bodies, including the Department of Tourism, HATAB, travel agents and, most of all, the service providers in tourist destinations to shape up. Commit yourselves to the very highest levels of service, to giving our visitors the greatest welcome and the best memories of the greatest country in Africa.

This week’s stars!

  • Montshiwa from Tyre Services for stopping a motorist with a flat tyre and advising them to get it fixed urgently. Great service and excellent business sense!
  • Maneo, also from Tyre Services, for fixing the tyre efficiently, quickly and with a smile.
  • Brian at Funrmart for “being a star”
  • Choppies Phakalane for being friendly, helpful and being really great with customers.
  • Staff at Akermans Riverwalk and Broadhurst for being helpful. Apparently they even look after your kids for you when you shop!

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