Nasty battle for the lucrative tourism concessions

If a recent announcement by Minister Kefentse Mzwinila is anything to go by, the unending tussle between former president Ian Khama and his successor President Mokgweetsi Masisi may cost some Khama-affiliated companies, Wilderness Safaris Holdings and Chobe Holdings, lucrative concessions in the Okavango Delta. Staff Writer KEABETSWE NEWEL reports.

Nasty battle for the lucrative tourism concessions

A letter written by the Minister of Land Management, Water and sanitation Services Kefentse Mzwinila, addressed to the Council Secretary in the North West District Council more than suggests that tourism companies associated with former president Ian Khama may be affected by a realignment of concessions.

According to the letter, which was dated 9 April 2021, the government has decided that it was in the national interest to acquire a portion of the tribal land in the Okavango Delta in accordance with Section 32 of the Tribal Land Act. The land in question is a portion of Moremi Game Reserve named NG 28 as well as NG21, which is located on the verge of Moremi Game Reserve and the Chobe National Park.

Government’s decision to acquire the concessions may have casualties. According to research carried out by The Business Weekly & Review, Moremi Game Reserve was extended in 1992 to the west and north in order to incorporate the Okavango Delta’s northern wetlands which were unprotected until that date. This expansion, according to the Moremi Game Reserve website, drew the concession NG 28 into Moremi Game Reserve so that Xigera, Mombo and Chief’s Island suddenly assumed prime positions within Moremi Game Reserve. Xigera sits to the western border of Moremi Game Reserve and Chief’s Camp and Mombo are in the centre and north of Chief’s Island.

Wilderness dodges the bullet?

Wilderness operates Chiefs Camp, which is located at Chiefs Island inside Moremi Game Reserve’s area of NG28. It is close to the portion which the government has decided to acquire. However, it is not yet clear if Wilderness will be affected or not. The Business Weekly & review spoke with Kim Nixon, Managing Director of Okavango Wilderness Safaris, who believes that Wilderness will not be affected.

"We have observed the memo that has been circulating on social media posts on this matter. We have not been officially engaged on this development, and the area illustrated (apparently near our Mombo Camp) on the said memo appears to fall outside our area of operation.We thus anticipate that it would not affect our flagship camp, Mombo.  This camp is the jewel in the crown of Okavango Wilderness Safaris’ camps in Botswana and was recently rebuilt at a cost of P120 million.  We support any positive developments in our sector that are in the public interest. We would thus be available to discuss with the relevant government department where we can support such an initiative."

Chief’s Camp comprises 12 luxury bush pavilions, sleeping a maximum of 24 guests. Each pavilion boasts a seating area and private game viewing deck with a hammock. Ensuite facilities include indoor and outdoor showers. Wilderness is the owner-operator and the Camp offers land and water safari activities. The rack rate is USD1 160 (around P11 800) per person per night sharing. Wilderness further owns Mombo Camp, also located on the Chiefs Island inside Moremi Game Reserve (NG28).

Mombo Camp is a tented luxury camp inside Moremi Game Reserve. The average rack rate is USD1 450 (around P15 000) per person per night sharing.  Also inside Moremi Game Reserve, Wilderness operates Little Mombo Camp. The camp also charges an average rack rate is USD1 450 (P15 000) per person per night sharing. Wilderness also operates Mombo Trails Camp, also located inside Moremi Game Reserve. Mombo Trails is located two kilometres north-west of Mombo Camp.

Wilderness is the largest eco-tourism outfit in Botswana. It controls the most lucrative concessions in the Greater Okavango Delta area, both by value and volume. It has approximately 20 camps in the Okavango Delta, most of which are the most expensive in Botswana, charging exorbitant fees of between P8000 and P20 000 per night per person.

Wilderness’s other operations in the delta

The eco-tourism outfit remains the largest and still operates some of the most money-spinning concessions in the plush Okavango Delta and beyond. Wilderness Safaris operates Vumbura Plains Camp, a thatch, timber and canvass lodge located on NG 22. The camp comprises 14 raised rooms sleeping 28 people. The average rack rate is USD 1 242 (Around P13 000) per person per night sharing.

Further, Wilderness owns Banoka Bush Camp located in the Khwai Concession. In the Okavango Delta alone, Wilderness owns over 13 concessions. The company owns Jao Camp located in the Jao Concession in the western part of the Okavango Delta. It charges USD1 242 (around P13 000) per night per person. Also in the Jao Concession in Western Okavango, Wilderness owns Jacana Camp, Pelo Camp, Kwetsani Camp, Little Tubu  and Tubu Tree Camp which charge between USD736 (P8000) and USD903 (P10 000) per night per person.

It also owns Chitabe Camp and Chitabe Lediba Camp, both located in the Chitabe Concession in Southern Okavango. The two camps, which have eight and five ensuite camps respectively, charge USD903 (around P10 000) per person per night.

Wilderness owns Little Vumbura Camp, located in the Kwedi Concession in northern Okavango Delta. The camp has six en suite luxury tents charging USD903 (P10 000) per night per person. Further, the tourism outfit owns Qorokwe Camp in the Qorokwe Concession located in the south eastern Okavango Delta. It has eight luxury ensuite tents and one family unit.

Seba Camp in the Abu Concession in the western Okavango Delta has two family units which cost USD736 (around P8000) per night. Xigera Camp, located in the Xigera Concession in Central Okavango Delta has 10 luxury ensuite tents which cost USD736 (around P8000) per night. Abu Camp is one of Wilderness’ most expensive camps and charges USD1783 (almost P20 000) per night per person. It has six luxury ensuite tents.

Wilderness Safaris is affiliated to former president Ian Khama. Both Khama and Wilderness have shareholding in Linyanti Exploration. It has been said that because of Khama’s affiliation to Wilderness, the company enjoyed lucrative concessions during his regime.

Chobe Holdings a casualty?

The government has decided to acquire the NG21 Concession. The concession, according to research conducted by The Business Weekly & Review, is operated by Chobe Holdings Limited, a Botswana Stock Exchange-listed eco-tourism counter. In that concession, Chobe Holdings operates Shinde Camp, a sophisticated tented camp nestled on a lush palm island in the north eastern Okavango Delta overlooking Shinde Lagoon. The area has an assortment of wild animals and birdlife. Shinde Camp is operated through Desert & Delta, a subsidiary of Chobe Holdings Limited. It boasts 123 ensuite luxury tents priced at USD510 per night.

Ker & Dowry is also a subsidiary of Chobe Holdings and operates three camps in the Shinde Concession named Shinde Camp, Shinde Enclave and Footsteps Across the Delta Camp, each charging USD500.

Chobe Holdings also has links to former president Khama. Some of its shareholders are Jonathan Gibson, the Executive Chairman. Khama’s nephew Dale Ter Haar is a director on the board.

In an emailed response to The Business Weekly & Review inquiry, Gibson said his company was never consulted prior to the acquisition.

“We were alerted only yesterday to the recently released Notice from the Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services to the Council Secretary of the North West District Council.  We have not been consulted by neither the Tawana Land Board, the tribal land authority who are our leaseholders, nor by Government on this matter and are thus unable to comment at this stage as to how Chobe Holdings Limited Group will be affected.  We will await notification by the Tawana Land Board,” Gibson had this to say.

Chobe’s other operations

Desert & Delta also operates Xugana Island Lodge in the same concession. It has eight tents charged at the same price. Chobe Holdings is controlled by African Finance Holdings. The company also operates Camp Moremi inside Moremi Game Reserve. It is designed from thatch and timber and accommodates 22 guests in a safari tented accommodation.

The tents are on raised teak platforms with adjacent private facilities and a viewing deck. Shared facilities include an elevated main lounge, a wildlife reference library, a dining room, a cocktail bar, a secluded swimming pool and sundeck, an elevated viewing platform, and a thatched boma.

Xakanaka Camp is constructed of local timber, reed and thatch. Facilities comprise an elegant lounge containing a small but comprehensive library, dining room, expansive sundeck, plunge pool and sala with day bed as well as a fire-deck set under giant Jackalberry trees. The camp is operated by Desert and Delta and land and water safari activities are on offer daily. The average rack rate per person per night sharing is USD 510. It also operates Kanana Camp in the Pom Pom Concession, western Okavango.

Okuti Lodge is located in the Moremi Game Reserve, world renowned for its prolific game, including predators, antelope and elephants and many species of bird wildlife - is also part of the greater protected area of the Okavango Delta. The game reserve is 4 871km2 (four thousand eight hundred and seventy one square kilometres) and joins the Chobe National Park further East. The camp is owned and operated by Ker and Downey. Safari activities both on land and water are available. The average rack rate is USD 510 per person per night sharing

OTHER MAJOR PLAYERS IN THE OKAVANGO DELTA

And Beyond

From 1990 to 2008, the company went by the name of Conservation Corporation Africa (CC Africa) before expanding its pioneering eco-tourism model into South Asia and changing its name to And Beyond. The company owns Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp located in the Pom Pom Concession in western Okavango Delta. With nine ensuite luxury tents, it charges USD940 (around P10 000) per night. It further owns Sandibe Okavango Safari Camp in the Chitabe Concession in Western Okavango. It has 12 cottages priced at over USD400 per night.

And Beyong also owns Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp in the Ranns Concession. The camp has nine ensuite tents priced at USD830 (just under P9000) per night. Further, the company also owns Xudum Okavango Delta Camp in the Ranns Concession also priced at USD830.

Belmond Safaris

Belmond Safaris is part of Belmond Ltd, a global collection of exceptional hotel and luxury travel adventures at some of the world’s most inspiring and enriching destinations. Established over 40 years ago with the acquisition of Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice, by James B Sherwood, Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Belmond Safaris owns Eagle Island Lodge in the NG27 Concession in central Okavango Delta. Khwai River Lodge is operated by Belmond Safaris in the Khwai Concession in eastern Okavango bordering Moremi Game Reserve. Tents are housed on raised wooden platforms and shaded by a thatch roof. The camp is owned and operated by Belmond and safari activities both on land and water are offered daily. The average rack rate is USD825 per person per night sharing.

Kwando Safaris

Kwando Safaris operates Kwara and Little Camp located in the Kwara Concession in northern Okavango Delta. The two have eight and five ensuite luxury tents priced at USD580 per night. Kwando Safaris has links to wealthy businessman John Maynhardt, the owner of Furnmart, and Cash Bazaar Group.

Africa Wild Safaris

It is 100 percent owned by Batswana citizens. Kadizora Camp is a flagship camp in the Africa Wild boutique. Kadizora Camp is situated between the Vumbura River and Selinda Spillway. It lies in the remote northern part of the Okavango Delta over-looking a panoramic seasonal floodplain. Giant marula trees, sycamore figs, jackalberries and rain trees provide a canopy of shade throughout the camp. It has eight luxury tents and four standard tents. The tents are spacious and furnished in a classic style ensuring that time between activities is spent relaxing comfortably. Kadizora is the only camp in the Okavango Delta to offer hot air ballooning. The rate person per night sharing is USD717 for the luxury tents and USD408 per person per night for the garden tents.

Africa Wild also operates Saguni Safari Lodge located in the Khwai Concession bordering Moremi Game Reserve. Khwai is adjacent to Northern Moremi Game Reserve. The Khwai community area provides a rare experience of a community that lives in harmony with nature and wildlife. There is free flow of game between the Khwai community area and Moremi Game Reserve. Saguni Safari Lodge is situated in Moremi East in the Okavango Delta. It is nestled on an island of mature riparian trees, typical of the Okavango Delta. The lodge overlooks the Mbudi Lagoon in the beautiful game-rich area of Khwai. ‘Saguni’ is a bushman name for Khwai, meaning “an area with abundance of game and spectacular sights”

The camps’ accommodation consists of seven luxury tents and nine standard tents. The tents are spacious and furnished in a classic style ensuring that time between activities is spent relaxing comfortably. It is priced at the rack rate USD515 per person per night sharing for the luxury tents and USD408 per person per night for the garden tents.

Mmapula Camp (Natural Selection)

Mmapula Camp offers a mixture of nine canvass and thatch tents with a maximum of 18 guests at any one point in the camp. The operator is Natural Selection. The rate person per night sharing is USD568. The camp offers both land and water safari activities.

Duba Plains (Great Plains)

Duba Plains is a thatch, timber and canvass lodge owned and operated by Great Plains, which in turn is largely controlled by filmmaker couple of Derek and Beverly Joubert, former president Ian Khama’s friends. The company operates in the NG 23 concession, which is approximately 30 000 hectares or 77 000 acres. The area is also called Great Plains Conservation.

The rate per person per night sharing is USD2 800 at peak season. Land and water safari activities are available daily. Great Plains is the only operator on the concession.