Numbers don’t lie

Numbers don’t lie

……As uptake in local accommodation facilities remains low………..

MASERU-THE rate at which the local accommodation facilities graduate from being handheld or mentored into getting graded is not satisfactory according to the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) Head Product Development and Investment, Ms. Mamello Morojele.

Morojele said this is despite efforts made by the Corporation to encourage the Hoteliers to enroll their facilities into grading as this remains a tool for marketing Lesotho internationally.
In 2013 the LTDC with the assistance of World Bank funded Project, PSC embarked on a grading programme to improve the state of accommodation and the quality of services offered by the industry.

“We learnt from the tourists that the quality of services they get from our local accommodation providers was below their expectation and not worth the money they were paying,” Morojele said.
’Mawinnie Kanetsi, Chairperson of Lesotho Hotels and Hospitality Association (LHHA), said the lack of grading system meant that Tour Operators were unable to help tourists book accommodation of their preferred quality standards and affordability as they did not have such information.

Kanetsi further indicated that mostly the project was meant to help position the local sector in the global market.
The low bed occupancy despite the influx of tourists put the LTDC under pressure because tourists were coming in but Basotho were not gaining anything from these visits.

“Tourists would come into the country as day visistors but would go back to South African towns bordering Lesotho for their overnight accommodation,” Morojele said.
These challenges gave birth to the programme aimed at not only improving the quality of services and accommodation but to also to equip owners and managers about how best to respond to the needs of their guests.
According to Morojele the grading system would allow a tourist anywhere in the world to compare the quality of facilities and services in Lesotho with other countries.

Although the programme was a necessary one there was poor participation from 2013 to 2016.
“In 2016 when we realized that the number of accommodation facilities that are willing to get graded is not growing at a staggering rate ie about 20 facilities had taken part in the program over the three year period and all were not participating consistently, the Corporation decided to review the programme using a participatory approach” Morojele said.

Since the re-launch of the programme in January 2017, 111 facilities have been mentored for grading and 31 facilities have been awarded grades.
“There are 6 bed &breakfasts, 16 guest houses, seven lodges and two hotels that are graded to date,” she said.
Maseru is the leading district with nineteen graded facilities, followed by Leribe with six, Qacha’s Neck, Mafeteng and Thaba-Tseka with two and Butha-Buthe with one.

Morojele explained that participation in the highlands is low due to the level of business which speaks to financial capacity to finance upgrades with most facilities located in Maseru district where there is more activity that influence the need for travel and overnights in a destination.

Performance in Butha-Buthe, Leribe and Thaba-Tseka is said to have been driven by the Northern Tourism Forum which is the association of tourism players in the five northern districts. The tourism players in these districts encourage each other to partake in the grading system.
Last year, over 11 graded facilities were assessed comparing their sales over a period of one year before and after grading.
“The assessment revealed that most facilities’ bed occupancy after grading increased massively with some reaching 100 percent and 32 percent increase in bed occupancy,” Morojele said.
Improved performance was seen even during a period considered to be a dry one which is from January to March. During this dry season some were able to register a 100 percent increase in bed occupancy while some registered 52 percent.

The grading journey has helped owners graduate from a small establishment in a home setting eg B&B to a more professional setting such as Guesthouse; from guesthouse to a lodge etc.
“Before being graded, some operators had kitchens with limited professional kitchen equipment fitted which risked safety of workers. Now many of them have proper kitchen equipment installed in their kitchens” Morojele said.
It has also levelled the playing field for prospecting investors and the Corporation has observed an influx of newly built accommodation facilities.

She adds that even customer experience has improved drastically and guests express their satisfaction on the guests books that the operators keep at their reception areas.
Although the project has brought forth beautiful changes into the industry there are still challenges stopping it from gaining full speed.

“Banks are reluctant to give loans to the sector to finance upgrades because the sector is slow in paying back capital injected,” Morojele said.
Another challenge is that the program remains voluntary as there is no supporting legal framework and some individuals choose not to participate even though they would have been handheld and have improved their facilities. Furthermore many operators still battle to understand the system and how it applies to different types of accommodation facilities.

Meanwhile, Kanetsi adds that the criteria used for grading should not be the same in order to allow establishments to partake in the grading program.
“Currently we still use the same yard stick to judge a homestead establishment up to a hotel making it difficult for smaller establishments to grade as it requires a lot of money,” Kanetsi said.
Kanetsi said there needs to be visible commitment to develop the sector especially because it is amongst the priority sectors with potential to generate revenue and create employment.

Lemohang Rakotsoane



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