THE Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) is currently on a drive to market the country as an attractive tourist destination. The LTDC has embarked on several initiatives aimed at ensuring that the country realizes maximum financial benefits from its tourist attractions. While the more common approach has been to target the international visitors, the LTDC is casting its net wider and even looking inwards to ensure that locals visit local tourism attractions and get to spend money to ensure the growth of the sector and ultimately the national economy. In this domestic campaign, the LTDC has so far facilitated trips for various stakeholders including the country’s security agencies. The latest instalment of the domestic tourism campaign dubbed the ‘Visit Your Country First Basotho’ featured a visit by insurance companies Minet Insurance and Specialised Insurance to the world-famous Afriski Mountain Resort in Mahlasela in the Butha-Buthe district. In this interview, the Lesotho Times editor, Herbert Moyo (HM) spoke to the LTDC’s Strategic Marketing Manager, Nkuebe Lerotholi (NL) about the domestic tourism campaign and other measures that the LTDC is implementing to ensure that Lesotho gets its fair share of the global multi-billion-dollar tourism industry.
HM: What are the initiatives that the LTDC has embarked on to market Lesotho as an attractive tourist destination?
NL: The main objective of LTDC is to market and promote the country to be the preferred choice of destination and tourism investment at local, regional and international level through strategic marketing and sustainable product and industry development in partnership with private sector.
One of our main priorities is to promote domestic tourism, so we have embarked on the promotion of domestic tourism campaigns for a few now and we have conducted tours with other corporates that includes banks, the Land Administrative Authority (LAA), media, security agencies and other companies. But we recently decided to take a different direction. We took insurance companies like Specialised Insurance and Minet Lesotho. We approached all the insurance companies but some of them had commitments and they promised to join us when we head to Semonkong for the biggest pony-trekking event ever.
The main objective of the Afriski Mountain Resort tour is to promote the domestic tourism especially the ski resort at Mahlasela so that Basotho can learn how to ski. They shouldn’t think skiing is for white people only; they should know it is for everyone. They must learn how to ski and they must bring their families and friends along so that they can enjoy skiing in Africa especially in the kingdom in the Sky. Domestic tourism is not only about visiting tourism attraction places. It’s about visiting, staying for a longer time and spending money so that they can improve on gross domestic product (GDP) in Lesotho.
HM: How has the response been to the domestic tourism initiative?
NL: So far the response has been hugely positive as Basotho are starting to appreciate the importance of visiting their country first. When I joined LTDC the campaign was already in place. The slogan that says ‘visit your country first’ was much appreciated by many locals, so it’s something that has been going on for many years. This is a continuation of what has been happening in the LTDC to encourage Basotho to travel within the country so that they can become tourism ambassadors when they go to other countries. The LTDC facilitated tours have been positive and even after the tours the same companies have taken the tours with their friends and families. So in essence the whole idea of visiting the different attraction sites is a very positive move because they go back and visit those places again.
HM: There have been some concerns in some quarters that tourism is a luxury which most locals cannot afford. Is there anything that the LTDC is planning in order to come up with tourism packages to suit the pockets of ordinary Basotho?
NL: We are trying as LTDC to differentiate the local prices from international prices. When you visit the Thaba-Bosiu Information Centre you will notice that there are two prices for the locals and international tourists. Locals don’t have that much to spend as compared to international tourists, so we are trying to encourage locals to visit tourist attractions so that they can learn about these places. Some locals complain about higher prices in some tourist attractions but we are working to encourage them to keep on visiting them until such issues have been resolved.
HM: Have there been any attempts to attract Basotho outside the country to visit Lesotho?
NL: We have other means of promoting domestic tourism through social media pages such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram which can reach all the corners of the world. We are trying to reach everyone everywhere. Besides social media we advertise in the print and electronic media where we place tourism advertorials so that we can reach out to other people outside the country.
HM: Besides domestic tourism, what other packages do you have to attract international tourists?
NL: We are attending exhibitions regionally and internationally. Right now we are focusing on the three pillars which is local, regional and international tourists. The main challenge is the budget but we need to work with what we have to achieve our goal of bringing more tourists into Lesotho. To reach out to all our source markets involves a huge budget. When the budget permits we will do road shows to create awareness about Lesotho and we will work closely with public relations agencies to represent us in those countries. We also work with diplomatic missions abroad to help us disseminate tourism information about Lesotho. Two weeks ago we visited South Africa to study the challenges faced by South African tour operators and also to find ways to help them to bring more tourists into Lesotho.
HM: Are you getting enough support from the government?
NL: Tourism has been earmarked as one of the three main priority sectors in the country so we are getting support from government. However, because of financial situation in the country we need to work with what we have to achieve the budgeted plans for the year.
HM: What other form of support do you want from govt besides financial assistance?
NL: We need government to appreciate the beauty of our country, to be aware of the importance of visiting and spending money in the country and how domestic tourism can boost the economy. They need to be ambassadors by visiting local attractions so that people can follow suit. For instance, we are building a visiting centre in Semonkong which will ensure people do not visit the waterfall for free but pay in order to increase the GDP and also ensure that that the local community benefits. I think government is doing enough to ensure society there gets returns.
HM: Tourists do not spend much because they are allowed to bring their own needs including food to the tourist attractions. What plans, if any, are there to encourage tourists to buy their requirements from the tourist attractions they visit?
NL: It is totally unacceptable for tourists to bring their food supplies and other things like petrol and diesel when these are available at the tourist destinations. We need to abide by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) rules and regulations that says the host country must benefit. It’s not acceptable for tourists to bring their own products. The whole idea when they visit our country is for them to spend money here by buying from the locals. We are trying to get the message across to the relevant authorities and the tourist themselves.
HM: You recently held a workshop with the police on tourism issues. What was your message to the police at that sensitisation workshop?
NL: The idea was to sensitise the police on the importance of tourism in Lesotho, to minimise the soliciting of bribes and other issues concerning police. Not all the police officers are corrupt but only a small percent which needs to appreciate the importance of tourists in the country. The message was simple: treat tourists very well, welcome them with a smile and don’t ask for anything like bribes.
HM: How often do you attend international tourism exhibitions and other platforms?
NL: We attend exhibitions regionally and internationally. We attended the Tourism Indaba in May in Durban. We have the upcoming Getaway Show in Gauteng from 13 to 17 September which is aimed at promoting outdoor activities. The other one is Cape Getaway in March.
There are international exhibitions which is Vakantibeures in Holland and ITB in Germany. The whole idea is to attract more tourists to visit the Kingdom in the Sky to come and explore the magnificent scenery, visit tourist attractions and spend money at tourism attraction places.
HM: In conclusion, what would you say to Basotho?
NL: We would like to see more if not all Basotho travelling within the country to see what the country is endowed with. We would love for Basotho to explore their magnificent country to experience its beauty of Lesotho and hidden treasures.