from FRANCIS MUKUZUNGA in Maseru, Lesotho
LESOTHO, (CAJ News) – THE just-ended festive season offers the tourism industry in Lesotho a little glimmer of hope after the damaging impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
There was a marked increase in activity during the December-January holidays in 2021 compared to the same period in the previous year.
Manchafalo Motsoeneng the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) Public Relations Manager, said while statistics were not yet available, it was evident that the 2021 festive season was better than 2020.
“Quite a remarkable volume of return visitors was noted during the holidays,” she said.
“In domestic tourism we also saw a positive pattern of Basotho traveling to various tourism spots around Lesotho, which is a sign that domestic tourism is gaining momentum even though there’s still much room for improvement.”
Motsoeneng also expressed the LTDC’s gratefulness to the local and international tourists who visited Lesotho over the festive season.
“LTDC takes this opportunity to thank all travellers who kept tourism alive during the festive season,” she added.
“Event organizers, proprietors of accommodation facilities, tour guides and operators and all other players within the sector, we appreciate all and wish them a very successful year and pledge our support in any way possible in the coming year,” Motsoeneng said.
She expressed hope that 2022 would bring more positive fortunes for the industry.
Although Lesotho’s tourism industry contributes around 3 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) it contributes significantly to employment creation and economic growth.
While the sector is predominantly informal, it provides formal employment to over 20 000 people (or 12,6 percent of total employment), with the majority being women and youth.
Lesotho’s main tourism market is South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, followed by Europe, Asia and the United States.
According to LTDC’s “Annual Tourism Arrivals & Accommodation Statistics Report 2018”, Lesotho experienced an increased growth in tourism as opposed to the previous years.
International visitor arrivals had recorded a positive growth of 3,1 percent in 2018 when about 1,2 million visitors were recorded.
There was an estimated US$24 million (about R3,7 billion) in total receipts.
The local tourism promotion body says international visitor arrivals have been on the increase year-on-year between 2014 and 2019 with the exception of 2017 when the figure fell slightly by 4,9 percent.
However, in 2020 the industry suffered a virtual collapse as the pandemic resulted in the closure of several entry points between Lesotho and South Africa as well as the banning of international flights to and Lesotho.
The industry came to a complete standstill and many resorts and places of interest closed business when the government imposed lockdowns.
According to the LTDC, no revenues were generated in the sector during the months of March and April 2020 due to the COVID-19 response measures.
“Other industries that depend on this sector and have been affected include the public transport system, logistics and accommodation, crafts, entertainment and food industries,” the report states.
The Lesotho government eased the COVID-19 restrictions in 2021 after the availability of vaccines.
Fusi Sematle, Managing Director of Discovery Travel and Tours, said the industry had not fully recovered.
He said business has been slow in 2021 due to low numbers of international travellers coming to Lesotho following restrictions on international travel.
He however, admits there was an improved business activity over the festive season.
“People were now forced to do their holiday trips or day trips locally and as a result there was a slight increase in domestic tourism during the year of 2021,” Sematle said.
He disclosed some resorts and lodging facilities had to sell their accommodation facilities at the ‘off-peak’ rates throughout the year, including the festive season, as one of the recovery strategies.
“Most of local tourism establishments had to rely on the local market because of some various reasons including restrictions on international travel,” Sematle said.
He urged the Ministry of Tourism, LTDC and other authorities in Lesotho to help boost domestic tourism.
“I would like to encourage the government and other authorities in Lesotho take a step to grow the local tourism market with the help of the private sector and design initiatives that will help stimulate domestic tourism demand,” Sematle said.
He gave reference to Costa Rica, which that moved all its holidays of 2020 and 2021 to Mondays to enable Costa Ricans to enjoy long weekends while they travelled domestically.
Sematle also alluded to the French’s 2021 “This Summer, I visit France”, a slogan that was inculcated among citizens to encourage them to visit their own places of interest.
Discovery Travel and Tours has likewise introduced travel packages designed to cater for both local and international travellers.
One such initiative is the company’s ‘”inter Holiday Tour” scheduled from June 2022.
This is in collaboration with Afriski Mountain Resort and Maliba Mountain Lodge.
“Travellers get to experience the best snow vacation at Africa’s top ski resort and the best sightseeing spots at Maliba Lodge within Ts’ehlanyane National park,” Sematle said.
It has become a favourite tour for local and South African travellers.
Almost 90 percent bookings are from South African travellers.
– CAJ News