The death of tourism

The death of tourism

MASERU-COVID-19 has hit hard the tourism industry, placing many companies on the verge of closure as global travel restrictions shut out tourists from rich countries.

Hotels are empty, leisure resorts deserted and tour and travel operators are grounded, leaving thousands of workers stranded.
But there is one group that is hardly given attention despite being among the worst affected: street vendors.

Making a living from hawking items such as artefacts to tourists at the country’s main entry points like the Maseru border gate and at tourism sites, they have been left with no source of income.
’Maseabata Bulane used to make enough to feed her family from selling local cultural items to tourists before the outbreak of the pandemic.
Nowadays, she sells masks, fruits and snacks to truck drivers but the income is hardly enough to put food on the table.

“I only manage to cover transportation costs with the little I get,” Bulane, who had been in the tourism industry since 1995, said.
“The mainstay of the (tourism) business has always been foreign tourists visiting the country mainly through the Maseru border gate. Since the closure of that port of entry, I haven’t been able to sell even one item,” she said.

She said she used to manufacture Basotho grass hats (mekorotlo), grass mats (meseme) and laced loin dress (thithana).
She said she had injected M5 000 into building her stock just before the pandemic struck, hoping to cash in during the Easter holidays.
“Only for Covid-19 to stop everything,” she lamented. “I thought I would generate income but to date, there have been no customers,” she said.
Bulane said even though the country has been hit by the virus, borders should be opened for tourism purposes as it is an essential money earner for the country.

“We need tourists for us to survive. Hunger has hit us hard. I am drowning in debts,” said Bulane, who said she said she used to make roughly M4 000 a month, depending on the number of tourist arrivals.
Tanki ’Muso, another trader, said he would make M2 500 monthly selling local artefacts and cultural clothing to tourists before the lockdown. Now he sells airtime vouchers to survive.

’Muso said he was keen to return to his trade after the lockdown was lifted “but it still feels as if I am in one”.
He said he only managed to sell molamu (a fighting stick) and a sporty hat after the lockdown.
“My mother tries to sell from door-to-door and hopefully it will work but to date she only managed to sell a single hat,” he said.
He said although they are struggling, border openings are still not a solution.

“We will be at higher risk of contracting Covid-19,” he said.
’Malimpho Mahao, who used to make up to M4 000 a month selling mokorotlo hats, said she is now eking a living selling fruits and vegetables.
She said she managed to sell two mokorotlo hats to local people ever since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.

Owners of small bed and breakfast lodges are also singing the blues.
Motebong Lodge director ’Mamoeketse Mohapeloa described the situation as “tough”.
Apart from tourists being locked out, Covid-19 restrictions have made it very difficult for her to accommodate local people.

“We are trying our best to survive. It hurts to have to turn down even local people because of the no movement from district to district regulation,” Mohapeloa said.
She said her 20 employees have been seriously affected as well but she holds meetings with them regularly to ensure that they adhere to World Health Organisation (WHO) Covid-19 prevention measures.
“At first, they were reluctant but now they are getting used to it,” she said.
She said after the lockdown she had to buy them PPEs and masks for protection.

Mohapeloa said she had to deploy some of her chefs and waiters to the laundry section as there was no work in the kitchen.
“I wonder where this will lead us. I am currently paying them from my savings. I want to work so I will be able to pay my staff without overdrafts,” she said, adding that her business screeched to a halt in March when the lockdown was announced.

A receptionist at Molengoane Lodge, Boitumelo Moteane, said the effects of the pandemic outbreak are still biting despite the lifting of the lockdown as business is still badly affected.
“The only difference is we are no longer on lockdown,” she said.
She said they still get a few customers but people are reluctant to visit for takeaways.

“It’s only those who love the place who still come for takeaways, most used to come for the experience of stay,” she said.
Business was “great” until they were forced to cancel bookings and refund clients who had paid for their stay in advance in April, she said.
She said it is very difficult for the employer to pay 29 employees without the business generating any meaningful income.
“Our managers are doing their best,” she said.

Elisa Mokali-Motšo of Maluti Stay Lodge said the “struggle” forced them to retrench all her eight employees, and only calls some of them when some guests trickle in.
“Currently I am working alone,” said Mokali-Motšo, adding that she had to refund people who cancelled their bookings following the outbreak of the pandemic.

Jonathan Halse, the manager of Semonkong Lodge said the entity is “really struggling”.
“We have gone from 100 percent capacity to zero,” Halse said.
He said they had to retrench 30 employees, leaving only 20.
“We are trying to survive as a small team,” Halse said.
He said they are trying to get visitors and last week they managed to get two.

“We don’t have enough to sustain everybody as we have a big team. It is very hard at the moment,” he said.
Those in travel and tours have also not been spared.
Black Hawk Empire Transport and Tours manager, Bohlokoa Makote, said he lost most of his customers after the lockdown.

He said he used to pick tourists from hotels and transport them to the country’s tourist attractions before the lockdown.
The outbreak of the pandemic and subsequent drying up of tourists forced him to park two of his cars and “release” two of his drivers as there were no customers.

“I am only transporting local people but still I get about two passengers a week,” Makote. Makote said he used to make about M5 000 a month.
Molengoane Tours manager, Tankiso Molengoane, said they had to cancel 11 international bookings from March.
“I had to let go of my employees so that they find other ways to survive,” Molengoane said, adding he hopes to rehire the staff once the situation returns to normal.

He suggested a new way of doing things for the tourism sector to survive the pandemic.
“I think virtual tours would be of great help until this is over,” he said.
’Majubile Ntšoereng of Leloli Travel Agency said she worries for her six staff members whom she last paid in March.

“Since we haven’t received any commission, six of the employees haven’t been paid. I really don’t know how they are managing,” Ntšoereng said.
She said businesses need help, especially because of the likelihood of a reintroduction of the lockdown as cases of infections spike.
“I wish we could be bailed out… and hopefully we will manage to survive the pandemic,” she said.

Unique Tourism Services manager, Motlatsi Rametse, said the virus outbreak has affected business during the firm’s traditional peak period between July and September.
He said most of his clients come from Asia, mainly China and Japan.
“We have none at all at the moment,” Rametse said.
He said last year they had seven group tours and the number had increased to 10 this year before the outbreak.

“This was going to be our biggest year,” he said.
Many hotels are relying on locals, especially government ministries and agencies.
New Central Hotel manager, Motšelisi Shata, said the only customers currently are the Ministry of Health and the ministry’s partners who use their halls to teach about Covid-19.
Workers are getting half the normal salary, Shata said, adding, “We are not sure how long it will last.”

She suggested that the government “meets the hospitality industry half way in terms of employees and taxation” to avoid layoffs.
She said businesses are expected to pay value added tax and income tax “but it is very difficult as it is.”

“It doesn’t make sense to shelve it (tax) for three months as that doesn’t change anything and it would even be harder to pay then,” said Shata.
She said they are trying to find alternatives to sustain the hospitality industry “but we will need assistance and the problem might still be getting customers as tourists remain the target market.”

Shata said the hotel, which has 31 rooms, had a single visitor this week, a far cry from last year when business was flourishing.
Afriski Resort General Manager, Vivienne Schultz, said they are trying to discuss with the Tourism Ministry and the High Commissions of South Africa and Lesotho to allow tourists who already paid six months ago to come through.

“We will put them in self-isolation here as the resort is very big and we can spread them wide,” she said.
She said if they are forced to refund clients then “the resort will have to wait until the next winter season and all between 70 and 80 workers will have to wait until business is back again.”

However, she fears hunger could set in as workers go for long periods without being paid.
“It is terrible how we are struggling,” she said.
She said they started a bakery and they are training staff as a way of saving jobs.

“With the alternative business we saved four jobs,” she said.
The Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation Public Relations Manager, ’Manchafalo Motšoeneng, said they are still quantifying the damage done to tourism following the outbreak of Covid-19.
“It is too early to tell,” she said.

’Mapule Motsopa

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