Botswana Certification: Ecotourism Conservation of Okavango Wetland

Situated due north of South Africa, Botswana has differentiated itself as an ecotourism destination since 2002, when it first developed the Biokavango Project, which was a national ecotourism strategy aimed at conserving the Okavango wetland system. The Project, which is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Government of Botswana, has been implemented by the Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Centre (HOORC) and culminated in the introduction of an Ecotourism Certification System in 2008. The Ecotourism Certification System is based on such standards as the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria and Green Key.

Botswana Eco Lodge

Guiding Principles of Botswana Certification

The voluntary program is open to all hotels, lodges, and tour operators regardless of their size and the 5 guiding principles of the Ecotourism Certification System are:

  1. Minimizing negative social, cultural and environmental impacts
  2. Maximizing the involvement in and the equitable distribution of economic benefits to host communities
  3. Maximizing revenues for reinvestment in conservation
  4. Educating visitors and locals as to the importance of conserving natural and cultural resources
  5. Delivering a quality experience for tourists

The 3 certification levels are:

  • Green: a basic entry-level certification that reflects the mandatory environmental management systems criteria necessary for a tour operator to be considered for certification
  • Green+: awarded to those tour operators who have met the mandatory criteria and have scored at least 22 more points toward other criteria
  • Ecotourism: reflects the tour operator’s commitment to local communities in tourism development, nature conservation, environmental management and interpretation of the surrounding environment to guests

In general, the Ecotourism Certification System for tour operators has 141 criteria (whereas hotel and lodge managers must address 241 criteria). Within the tour operator criteria, 70 are mandatory for achieving the Green certification level. There are 51 additional criteria that generate extra points toward achieving the Green+ certification level and a final 20 criteria that are mandatory for the Ecotourism certification level to be awarded. Points are awarded to the level of demonstrated best practices of a tour operator’s:

  • Sustainable management policies
  • Green and responsible marketing
  • Minimization of negative impacts on the environment by physical design and operations
  • Visitor experience, impact, and interpretation
  • Maximization of local community benefits
  • Contribution to conservation
  • Tour execution

The certification process has nine steps starting with the tour operator’s free self-assessment. Based on the self-assessment results, the tour operator may elect to apply for certification by submitting an official request along with all appropriate documentation to the Botswana Tourism Board (BTB) Quality Assurance Department. The BTB conducts a site evaluation during a real-life ecotour and sends the results to a Quality Assurance Committee who awards the certification level. The certification is valid for two years, but the tour operator must apply for reauthorization within six months of expiration. There is also periodic monitoring of the tour operator during the award period.

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