KHOTSONG Lodge has temporarily shut down operations to make way for renovations and operational restructuring that will see the majority of its employees being laid off.
The facility, which is located a few kilometres from the iconic Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village, shut its doors on 31 December 2018 much to the dismay of holiday makers who were turned away on New Year’s Day onwards.
The proprietor, Tumo Tlelai, told the Lesotho Times that the rehabilitation exercise is expected to be completed by April this year, when the facility will be back in business.
He said the facility was no longer in a good condition and therefore needed wholesale renovations to restore its lustre.
“The infrastructure was ageing and therefore no longer in a good state to host patrons,” Mr Tlelai said this week.
“It was no longer feasible to undertake piecemeal maintenance works on the lodge while business operations were going on, that is why we decided to temporarily suspend operations so that we can effect wholesale maintenance once and for all.”
He further added that they also yielded to pressure from the Ministry of Tourism, the regulator of hospitality establishments in the country, who were worried about the state of the facility.
“This was basically an impromptu decision as we had pressure from the Ministry of Tourism to get the facility in good shape.”
Renowned for its wild animals, the Mr Tlelai said they also intend to increase the variety of their animals. Currently they have zebras, ostriches, wildebeests, impalas, duikers and peacocks among others.
Khotsong Lodge offers a wide range of accommodation options to choose from among them, 78 standard rooms and eight cozy rondavels with pay TV and ensuites. The rondavels also have mini bars, coffee and tea facilities.
Besides conferences and business meetings, Khotsong Lodge is renowned for picnics, weddings, birthday parties, swimming and game viewing.
Other activities offered by the facility include horse-riding, fishing and visits to the Thaba-Bosiu Mountain, bushman paintings as well as tours of the Metolong and Mohale dams.
Asked about the organisation’s financial constraints which have been rumoured to be behind the closure of the facility, Mr Tlelai said such challenges were not unique to Khotsong Lodge as the rest of the industry was experiencing similar problems.
“About 90 percent of hotels in Maseru have retrenched a lot of their staff in recent times due financial problems and are operating mostly on skeleton and part-time staff.”
He further indicated that financial challenges faced by the hospitality establishments were mainly due to payment delays by the government, which is their major client for workshops and conferences.
“Money is always a challenge especially in our kind of set-up where the government is a major client. It is common that after you have rendered services, it can take up to two years for the government to pay and that negatively affects our cash flows.”
In December 2018 government admitted through Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro that it was struggling to pay debts to its suppliers which have ballooned to M1, 1 billion since July last year.
M700 million of the M1, 1 billion debt was said to be from the 2017/18 financial year while the remaining M400 million is from the current financial year.
The government had resolved to pay the suppliers through issuing treasury bills and government bonds to the private sector.
Mr Tlelai said the facility was set to broaden its clientele to target international tourists to reduce its dependency on government business.
Meanwhile, some employees from the lodge who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity, said the closure of the facility was also meant to get rid of some of the ‘troublesome staff’ who have previously sued the company for underpayment through their trade union.
They added that chances of most employees being re-engaged when the business reopens were slim as most of them were involved in suing the company.
The lodge had 44 employees and it is understood only six of them have survived retrenchment.
“Employees sued the company for underpaying them from 2016 to January 2018. My view is that closing the company was just a strategy to do away with the employees who sued the company.” one of the employees said.
A notice seen by the Lesotho Times alerted the employees in November that the company would terminate their employment on 31 December 2018.
“The executive administration of Khotsong Lodge regrets to inform you that, the company will face complete cessation of business operations indefinitely due to the financial constraints it is facing as discussed in our previous meetings.
“The last operation day will be on the 31st of December 2018. This notice will be effective as of the 1st December 2018. Therefore, your most appreciated services will be terminated thereof accordingly.
“Terminal benefits and any other outstanding wages will be calculated and paid accordingly once process completed,” the letter reads.