THE Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation’s (LTDC) hospitality star-grading initiative has been overhauled after lacklustre uptake of the programme launched in 2013.
Dubbed “Lesotho Quality Star Grading Programme”, the hospitality star-grading initiative was introduced to ensure every commercial lodging facility in Lesotho adhered to prescribed international standards.
The grading would give potential clients, especially tourists, an idea of what service to expect should they book into that facility and also to boost the profile of the hospitality sector.
Given that the government has identified tourism as one of the key sectors to foster economic development, the programme was among the initiatives meant to achieve that goal.
However, the uptake was very limited, with only 14 of the over 180 hospitality establishments in the country successfully graded.
The lacklustre uptake prompted a review of the programme by the LTDC in conjunction with the Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification Project (PSCEDP II).
The PSCEDP II, which is under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, seeks to fight pervasive poverty through the development of the private sector to create jobs in Lesotho. The World Bank-supported project comprises of three components; improving the business environment, supporting economic diversification and project implementation support.
Among the review’s findings were that the star-grading system’s standards were too stringent and not responsive to the local environment. The review also noted that the grading assessors were not adequately knowledgeable about the programme.
An overhauled programme, which took into consideration the concerns raised in the review, was unveiled on Tuesday this week at a Maseru hotel.
Addressing the attendees, who included representatives of the hospitality industry and government, Tourism Ministry Principal Secretary Khomoatsana Tau said the overhaul of the programme was necessary to encourage compliance.
“It is important to highlight that this review has resulted into a new set of grading requirements, standards and score sheet. Furthermore the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture has also seen the importance of creating an enabling environment for the programme and as such it has embarked on developing Tourism Enterprise Bill with an intention to address the short comings that have been observed such as; conflicting licensing regulations and the grading system minimum requirements as well as to strife for making this exercise compulsory for all accommodation establishments. It is our aim to get the said Bill passed by the Parliament by the end of the coming financial year 2017/18,” Mr Tau said.
LTDC’s Head of Product Development and Investment Promotion Mamello Morojele said despite the slow private sector uptake, the grading had made a notable impact in the industry.
“There has been a general improvement in the quality of services offered in hospitality establishments. That has led to more bookings from tourists which in turn prompted the operators to expand their businesses,” she said.
This sentiment was echoed by Stella Diedricks who is the general manager at Mohale Lodge.
“When the programme was first introduced, I was a bit scared because I thought our establishment needed a lot of work in order to be graded,” she said.
“But the programme has helped the lodge improve its standards and now receives more international visitors than before.”
Ms Diedricks also pointed out that the programme should not be viewed as an obstacle to the operations of hospitality establishments but as a tool to helping them improve.
For his part, LTDC Chief Executive Mpaiphele Maqutu said it was important for the hospitality sector to be graded as it helped to promote Lesotho’s image in the world.
“Any bad experience in one local establishment by a tourist can have a ripple effect that can affect the rest of the industry. Negative reviews can be spread around the world through the use of social media. To restore that lost goodwill is a mammoth task which is also very costly,” he said.