We’re working to reposition Lesotho’s tourism — Nko

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LESOTHO Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) last month appointed Dr Retselisitsoe Nko as its chief executive officer.

In this interview Nko chats to Lesotho Times journalist, Bereng Mpaki, to share his vision for the corporation. Below are excerpts from the interview.

LT: Congratulations on your appointment. You are coming in during a crucial time when the sector is reeling from the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. What is your vision in driving the development of Lesotho’s tourism?

 Dr Nko: We have come up with an interim programme of action, which was developed as my first port of call upon my arrival into this organisation having realised its strategic plan had expired in 2020.

This plan of action shows some massive strategic intents we have for the period of 2022/23, including re-organisation of our activities to align with the current environmental challenges, which include major promotion of our tourism activities and environment. We are working hard on innovative means of rebranding and repositioning.

Our strategy is more on a private-public partnership approach. The private sector should be the one taking the lead since we have realised it is the driver of the economy. For example, we are about to implement what is called the ‘land mark frames’, which are going to be available for visitors to our tourist attraction areas and sites. This is to hype up branding, re-positioning and deepening knowledge with sensitisation about the tourism environment and products that are offered in Lesotho.

Another important issue in the plan is implementation of the tourism levy. We are working around the clock to ensure we implement it within the next three months, tentatively by the 1 July 2022.

The breakdown of the collection of tourism levy impinges upon marketing, administration, investment and supporting the operations of the corporation. This means we will have sufficient income to stretch our leg going forward in ensuring institutional realignment to the environment and to acceding to the implementation of master strategic development plan goals including increasing of employment, contribution to the balance of payments, and upbringing of our environment to attract more footsteps and more income for the country as a whole.

Another issue is a sustainability plan during times of crisis. This is more about enterprise risk management framework on how we can maintain our footsteps, how we can position the country, and how we can maintain our income to sustain our operations.

The bigger picture of this is that within the next 10 years we should be looking at full autonomy of the corporation so that it can be able to work more in partnership with the private sector without governmental regulations that can impinge upon it and receiving sponsorships. It is my vision to ensure that the government can only maintain the administrative counterpart fund while the corporation generates sufficient funds to maintain its operations to expedite its mandate of positioning and marketing the country as a destination of choice for tourists.

We are looking at diversifying our competitive advantage. Modestly speaking, I am considering developing proposals that talk about seeding fund for the corporation. I have realised that the corporation might not have received seeding from its initial establishment and not been allowed to buy equity so that it can be sustainable. These are the foresights I am looking at.

To diversify and spread the word about Lesotho tourism, we have diplomatic missions almost all over the world but they do not seem to have a mandate to position tourism. Their officials can be made focal persons in marketing and positioning the country in the foreign lands. I think there is no clear mandate on tourism in our missions.

LT: One of the major attractions for Lesotho is that it is one of only two countries in Africa which have snow every winter. Now that winter is starting, what can be done to leverage that attraction?

 Dr Nko: Our biggest selling point is our unique four seasons, amazing topography, environmental attracting and the heritage.

So, I would say we need to develop a tourism diaspora strategy, which in fact is in a draft form as we speak. We want to link up with the relevant international partners like the Drakensburg, Free State, Durban, Cape Town etc tourism organisations. Diaspora helps us to promote Lesotho from outside.

If we can have a working relationship within the sub-Saharan or Southern African Development Community (SADC) region through our diaspora strategy, we will talk about our unique attractions. Even our summer season is quite unique as we have the Roof of Africa Rally taking place during summer, which is our biggest tourist puller into the country. I’m not focused on winter per se, but we need funding that can strengthen environmental protection, attraction and have to up to scratch facilities that can be able to draw people’s attention.

Afriski must be relieved, probably by Sehlaba – Thebe National Park, where we can have another ski resort or some kind of a cultural investment that can also house such facilities.

LT: One of the factors hampering Lesotho’s tourism development is the lack of world class tourism infrastructure; something that helped the growth of South Africa’s border towns like Clarens. These towns benefit hugely from tourists who spend the day in Lesotho but cross into South Africa for accommodation facilities. What can be done to change this?

 NKO: What hurt me is that the second Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact to Lesotho initially had an element of tourism but the country failed to support its case on tourism investment to the extent that it was removed from the compact. My plan is to seek investors who are going to bring more competitive hospitality facilities.

We have a visitor comfort facility in Semonkong that has to be supported by a large lodge because people want to go to Semonkong to see the iconic Maletsunyane fall, but will only last for a day because it has limited lodging facilities. Imagine how many people would want to host their birthday parties, family vacations, conferences there. I am going to do my best to plead the case for tourism investment with the government, starting next financial year.

Tourism for me is a golden egg, and we are sitting on it. After I develop the approval of the strategies, I will be engaging in robust virtual and physical positioning and marketing of Lesotho for attraction of investment especially following the PPP approach.

LT: Another issue negatively affecting Lesotho’s attractiveness to European tourists is expensive fees and cumbersome Visa application regime. What is your take on this?

 Dr Nko: One of the streams of national income is the visa fees, but I do not know on what parameters our visas were set. When you want to buy a beautiful car, you have to be prepared to pay for the price that comes with it, and our country is quality and warrants visa fees. If we only we could score a seeding fund to take in our development partners on the plan to urbanise and improve Lesotho’s outlook, that visa will not be a question. Tourists are probably questioning the visa fees because the service they got in the country is sub-standard.

We also have to encourage development of a dedicated school of tourism in the Ministry of Education so that we can come up with diverse tourism development programmes to tackle unemployment which is one of the biggest problems facing the country. These are among things I envision to take our tourism to the next level.

LT: The elephant in the room is Lesotho’s high statistics for crimes like gender-based violence and murder. Do you think there is political will to end these vices?

 DR Nko: The LTDC is doing a fine job in doing outreach exercises with community leaders including chiefs, area police, community policing, and local councils to sensitise them about the importance of providing safety for our tourists. The will is there, but we might be lacking sufficient capacity.

For example, some areas do not have transport and lodging resources. Our topography is unique but not easy to navigate. Despite these challenges, we are trying our best to reach such areas, and that for me is a sign of political will and dedication to have a safer environment for tourists.

We are also implementing a new approach of using what is called ‘information papers’, which can help tourists with critical information about the contacts of nearby service providers or authorities they can contact during times of emergencies. We are going to distribute these information papers to all our facilities and to all district community councils to remind everyone that environmental and tourist safety is of utmost importance.

LT: Lack of political stability has been cited as one of the challenges deterring foreign direct investment. How can Lesotho tourism improve? What can make Lesotho attractive to both local and international tourism investors?

 DR Nko: I am PhD holder in governance and political transformation. The Lesotho situation is not political instability but political dynamism, which is cruel to the political situation in the country. We have got many different political ideas that are so dynamic in all their aspects. You can never achieve consensus in a family set-up when there are five differing views.

However, out of this political dynamism which is cruel to the political situation in Lesotho, one thing I have noted is that we are all Basotho and remain one people despite our political colours. It is therefore incumbent upon the LTDC to constantly sensitise parliament to emphasize the importance of including tourism development in the party manifestos for their buy-in.

Our strategies should target politicians speak the same language as us. This was not in our previous strategy and we are going to have it in our new one. We want different parties to prioritise tourism in their manifestos and policies. This will improve the trust of tourists and investors. It is easier for me to convince investors by referring to the manifestos of our political parties.

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