MASERU — In exactly 147 days the World Cup football tournament will burst into life in neighbouring South Africa.
The World Cup, arguably the biggest sporting event on planet earth after the Olympics, is expected to be watched by billions of people.
The tournament which will run from 11 June to 11 July is expected to boost the South African economy.
It is also expected to have a ripple effect on the economies of other southern African countries.
Business people in South Africa say they expect business to flourish during the tournament.
While there is vibrant activity across the border, Lesotho’s tourism actors appear to be in a deep slumber.
They appear on the whole to have failed to take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime event.
It would appear that not much has been done to tap into the tourism opportunities surrounding the World Cup.
As a result, Lesotho seems very much prepared just to get the crumbs.
Small-scale traders in Maseru say not much has been done to attract tourists to Lesotho.
They fear that they will be left empty handed when the World Cup kicks off in South Africa in June.
Takatso Molala, who sells leather handicrafts, says they were likely to lose out come June as not much work had been done to market their wares.
Molala sells hand bags, sandals and belts along Maseru’s streets.
He says it would be a shame if they were to fail to capitalise on the increased numbers of tourists visiting the country.
He says he is still clueless as to how he could maximise sales during the football extravaganza.
He says he has been struggling to secure a decent a place to sell his wares.
“Our market is poor and so is the business flow. There are no good market places to sell crafts in our country.
“The government has also not helped us to market our products in time when multitudes of people will be around us,” Molala says.
He says Lesotho will reap the rewards of the World Cup if the country is marketed properly so as to attract tourists.
“If our tourist attractions and crafts were marketed earlier, I am sure we would come out of the soccer World Cup richer,” he says.
He lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Ministry of Tourism.
“Most of us are not in a position to advertise and market our products on our own.
“The least we were hoping for was for the government to help us but most of us have not received any kind of help from the government.”
Teliso Maiso, who specialises in designing and selling of clothing ware, says while business might pick up during the football tournament she is more worried about the days beyond.
Maiso says she is deeply worried by the “little attention” the government gives to those in the crafts industry.
“Tourism is a neglected area in our country. The government is not keen to improve tourism.
“We do not have a proper market which is accessible to all the craft designers,” she says.
She believes if the government gives more attention in helping small craft businesses the attitudes of locals towards the industry would change.
“We get too little support from the government and local people. It is so disheartening when people take you for granted with what you do for a living.”
On the other hand, Mpho Molapo, an assistant at Litema Design Gallery, says she can’t wait for the World Cup to kick off.
Business, she says, will boom only if you take the opportunity to take your niche.
“I am so excited. Tourists from all over the world will be flocking in to view our beautiful landscape.
“They will surely pop into our stores to grab one or two things back home,” Molapo says.
She however says she is also upset by the limited market for craft designers in Lesotho.
“There is just too small a market for craft designers to sell their products. The limited available markets in hotels and lodges are just not affordable,” she says.
“We need a bigger space where designers can sell their products under one roof. We need a location where every tourist or potential buyer can know where to find us.”
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says Lesotho’s tourism market could benefit from the number of soccer fans from overseas and Africa.
“The expected numbers of soccer fans, believed to be approximately 500 000 (overseas and African) provide a sizeable audience and opportunities for raising awareness about regional tourism products whose benefits will go beyond the event.”
“The location of Lesotho in relation to South Africa provides it with a unique opportunity to benefit from the 2010 soccer event,” the UNDP says in a report written as part of Lesotho’s 2010 tourism strategy.
“Completely surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho is within a short flight/drive from three of the host cities. Bloemfontein is a mere one and a half hours drive away from Maseru. Johannesburg can be reached by a one hour flight or four and a half hour drive, while Durban can be reached by a six-hour drive from Maseru,” says the UNDP.
UNDP, however, says poor infrastructure might constrain the flow of tourists from South Africa into Lesotho.
“However, there are infrastructural constraints as access by air is limited and not competitively priced.
“And although Lesotho is linked to RSA by road, access is hampered by cumbersome border control procedures that can result in long waiting times to enter Lesotho.”
The UNDP says other constraints that hamper tourism growth include limited skills levels in tourism-related fields which negatively impact on service standards.
“All this is affecting the competitiveness of Lesotho as a tourism destination,” the report says.
In striving to capitalise on 2010 opportunities, the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation has developed 2010 tourism strategy which outlines how the country foresees removing some of the barriers holding back the tourism industry.
The strategy identifies a number of initiatives that could augment and improve the “tourism supply” and has also looked at identifying concrete actions to stimulate “tourism demand”.
“Key challenges that remain are, to determine the viability of the supply activities in light of 2010 and beyond as well as implementation challenges in terms of funding and capacity to manage such a large undertaking.”