A lady detective and a swamp: good story telling spurs tourism

How did a landlocked country in Africa make it on to ABTA's Top Ten Destinations To Watch list? The answer lies in two words: good storytelling.

One of our cows write regular travel advice on comparison website CompareAndSave.com. With the task to keep tabs on the latest travel trends, he reports that the Republic of Botswana is the only African country to make it onto this coveted  list. The obvious question we had was how did Botswana manage this, taken that the Rainbow Nation republic to Botswana’s south – South Africa – seems to have so much more to offer than a semi-desert and a  few large swamps? Good story telling and content, he answered.

Botswana has one person to thank for its tourism triumph: a great story-teller in Alexander McCall Smith. The Scottish author’s series of novels set in Botswana’s capital Gaborone - No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency – has put the country ‘on the map’ (cliché intended). 

Both the BBC and American television network HBO filmed a series based on the books featuring the adventures of sleuth Mma Precious Ramotswe, the protagonist and main detective in the stories. McCall Smith dramatised the series for BBC Radio 4 with 29 episodes broadcast between 2004 and 2015.

Fans of the series would not dream of visiting Botswana without going on a two day No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Tour, which includes paying respects to the local Tswana Regency, traditional homes, eating the food Mma Precious would have feasted on and some good old ‘bush detective work’.

The ABTA Consumer Trends survey 2014 was conducted by Arkenford Ltd which specialises in tourism and leisure market research. It found that with Botswana now a more familiar name on Africa’s list of destinations, the main draw card for visiting the country has started shifting to excellent safari opportunities. Most famous are the wetlands of the Okavango Delta, the salt pans of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park – home to large Meercat families (no, we are not comparing meercats) – and migrating herds of the Central Kalahari and Nxai Pan National Park.

It’s a long-haul to get to Gabarone, advises our tourism cow, but flights via Johannesburg’s modern O.R. Tambo International Airport is as painless as any long-haul destination can be. Once in ‘Gabs’, as the locals refer to the capital, you will receive five-star treatment all round. Testament to this is the 19,000 British nationals who already visit Botswana each year.

Need to know:

  • Always carry identification as you may be asked for it in road blocks, which occur rather frequently. A copy of your passport will do the trick.
  • If you do decide to self-drive, be on the lookout for wildlife as they do stray onto roads, especially at night.
  • Take out travel and medical insurance before travelling. No matter where you go.
  • Pack your favourite read – good old paperbacks rather than a kindle – there are no power sockets in the bush after all.