Sustainable Travel BotswanaOne of Africa’s success stories, Botswana was a haven of peace even while South Africa was still a land of apartheid. Independent since 1966, it is Africa’s longest continuous multi-party democracy and is relatively free of corruption. With a high literacy rate (over 80 per cent), it has been called the Hampstead of Africa. However, it has the second highest rate of HIV in the world after Swaziland.

Most of its huge landlocked area consists of the Kalahari Desert, which is inhabited by dwindling numbers of Bushman hunter-gatherers. The desert is worth a visit in itself; but it is the north of the country that mainly attracts tourists. The Chobe National Park on the border with Zambia and Namibia (and handy for a side trip to the Victoria Falls) is one of Africa’s greatest game parks and home to more elephants than you can ever imagine. Further west is the amazing Okavango Delta, where a major river splits into a vast swamp and soaks away into the desert, providing refuge for a variety of antelope and a paradise for bird-watchers. Safari-based tourism, tightly controlled and often upmarket, is an important source of income for the country. The populated areas in the east and south of the country are also worth a visit.

The large traditional villages, such as Serowe and Mochudi, are as large as small towns and they are the base from which people take their cattle out to distant ‘cattle posts’ on the edge of the desert during the (slightly) rainy season. Gaborone, the capital, is modern and expanding fast. It is the home of that famous fictional character, Mma Precious Ramotswe of the Ladies’ No 1 Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith.







Ethical Travel Issues and advice

Displacement of local peoples:

Tourism development has caused many communities to be forcibly displaced. Indigenous groups, people living in informal settlements, or people who lack official title deeds to their lands are particularly vulnerable to displacement or loss of access to lands and waters essential for their livelihoods. This often happens with little or no warning, compensation or alternative provision.

Governments and private companies have forced many tribal peoples from their ancestral lands to make way for national parks and so called ‘eco-tourism’. Fishing communities are removed from their coastal villages and blocked from accessing the sea as hotels are built and beaches are privatised, destroying livelihoods and traditional ways of life. Informal settlements are bulldozed under beautification projects in the lead up to major international sporting events.

In 2010, tourists were urged to boycott Botswana in response to claims that the country’s government was trying to starve Kalahari Bushmen out of their ancestral land on the Central Kalahari Game Reserve – a diamond-rich region popular with safari groups. Survival International, which campaigns on behalf of tribal groups throughout the world, said the government was denying Bushmen on the reserve access to water and food.

Since the mid-Nineties the government has attempted to move the Bushmen to newly created settlements. Hunting in the reserve was banned and the region’s only borehole sealed off. In 2006 a court ruled that the relocation policy was unlawful, encouraging many Bushmen to return, but the government was not compelled to reopen the borehole, and hunting remains illegal.

To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Land displacement:

Ethical Photography:

Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.

Taking photos of friendly local people can be a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.

Elephant Rides:

An elephant ride is a popular tourist activity, especially in many parts of Asia and parts and some regions of Africa. The appeal of such treks is clear – the elephant is the largest land mammal, it’s intelligent, social and emotional. Trekking elephants are often mistreated and harshly trained and many people now believe that tourist elephant trekking should be avoided (many Ethical tour operators have stopped offering Elephant trekking altogether).

The tradition of using elephants in industry has mostly ended, mainly due to irresponsible over-logging. The collapse of the industry created huge problems for the mahouts who had to find a way to pay for the care and upkeep of their elephants, which can consume up to 200 kilograms of food a day. Mahouts had to find other ways to support their huge charges, which is why many began begging in the streets or turned to tourism via trekking, rides or entertainment.

To make a wild animal such as an elephant compliant and able to be controlled by humans they are often deprived of food and sleep, they are subject to regular beatings using the ankus or billhook, and physical restraint such as chaining and shackling. According to right tourism, the training that’s required to make them safe around people is often akin to torture, as demonstrated by the traditional Thai “phajaan” or “crush,” where young animals spirits are systematically broken through torture and social isolation.

Do you really want to be supporting such a cruel activity?

To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Elephant riding:

Water Equity:

Fact: Tourists use more water than the ordinary consumer. Indeed, the water ‘footprint’ of the Western world, as in our carbon footprint, is very high. There are already serious water shortages worldwide and a prediction of ‘water wars’.

The United Nations has claimed that ‘The average tourist uses as much water in 24 hours as a third world villager would use to produce rice for 100 days.’ Tourists need unlimited supplies of water – they are used to it at home and desire copious amounts on holiday: for drinking, baths and showers, swimming pools, overflowing fountains and green manicured lawns.

But water, in developing countries, is often a precious commodity. More than 2 billion people lack access to clean water and sanitation, and 80 per cent of all deaths in the developing world are water related. Put a hotel near a local community and the pressure on the water supply is acute.

Tourism Concern has extensively campaigned on water equity and have published reports & articles on the topic. To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles: