COMMENT Tourism success needs locals’ buy-in
REPORTS that schoolchildren, in some areas of this country, have been harassing and even attacking tourists are disconcerting to say the least. Nothing puts off a potential tourist than a threat to their personal safety or the security of their possessions. All this while, Lesotho had managed to carve a niche as a safe holiday destination in stark contrast to South Africa which makes news for all the wrong reasons as far as its crime statistics are concerned.
According to LTDC Public Relations Officer, Molapo Matela, aggrieved holidaymakers have been spreading news of the harassment through social media and dealing a severe blow to Lesotho’s image which is already reeling from the political instability that rocked the Mountain Kingdom in the preceding years. The recent terrorist attacks in Tunisia offer ample testimony of the devastating effects negative publicity can have on a tourist industry. While the antics of schoolchildren cannot be compared to terrorism, their detrimental effects can blight our already fragile tourism sector.
And it is welcome news that the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) has embarked on a campaign to ensure this despicable practise is nipped in the bud as reported elsewhere in this edition. The LTDC is conscientising schoolchildren on the need to be friendly to tourists, and never to bother the visitors by begging for goodies and then attacking those who fail to comply.
However noble the LTDC’s initiative, it cannot achieve the desired objectives without commensurate measures to ensure local communities are not bypassed by the benefits accruing from the tourism sector. Only then, can they feel a sense of ownership in the industry, and not feel used by government and tour operators while they are left with nothing to show for their courtesy and hospitality. Ultimately, the involvement of local people in the tourism industry will improve Lesotho’s tourism product and enhance popular support for the industry. Tourism can alleviate poverty and bring about meaningful economic activity that contributes to the gross domestic product.
Local communities need to be equipped with information and skills to engage equally with tourists and private operators. The LTDC and government need to set a conducive policy environment, facilitate communication, and ensure government procedures and regulations accommodate the needs of local communities. For instance, communities need to learn how they can earn a living through intangible and tangible cultural heritages within their locality.
Tangible cultural heritages include buildings and historic places, monuments and artefacts which are considered worthy of preservation for the future, while intangible heritage includes traditional festivals, oral traditions, oral epics, customs, ways of life and traditional crafts. There is also need for forums to teach communities how to produce quality arts and craft products with quality, diversification and standards for the international buyers to buy. Under an organised operational framework, community leaders can then be tasked with ensuring villagers create a conducive environment for visitors for the collective good. Only locals can identify truant elements within their ranks and ensure they account for their actions.
Added to this, a viable community tourism system also spawns other downstream benefits for small and medium-sized enterprises. Studies have also shown that it also helps develop indigenous knowledge systems as tourists seek for historical contexts to local cultures.