COM­MENT Tourism suc­cess needs lo­cals’ buy-in

Sunday Express - - LEADER -

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.

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