Cutting their share of tourism cake

Cutting their share of tourism cake

Senate Sekotlo

MOKHOTLONG – IN the late 1990s Russell Sachet and the late Thabiso Nkune had a ‘Eureka moment’ when they realised they could accommodate tourists in traditional huts and let them have a truly Basotho experience.

Sachet runs the Sani Lodge which is nestled on the slopes of the Drakensberg Mountains in Mokhotlong.

The Nkune family provided the huts in their yard for the project.

When tourists visit, they sit around the fire in the huts as they wait for dinner cooked in a traditional Sesotho style while learning from their hosts the history of Lesotho and Basotho as a nation.

Also the tourists are introduced to Basotho values, religious beliefs, relationships with other nearby ethnic groups and how they work together and how they differ in certain things.

A tourist leaves a minimum of M20 to the family in addition to the costs of other goods they might have bought that include traditional foods and handicrafts.

The project has been a booming success.

Through the project, Sachet has demonstrated that it is possible to plough back into the community proceeds from tourism, bettering the lives of host communities.

Sachet has engaged the local community of Mokhotlong Ha-Tseko and Mphere to provide accommodation for the tourists. His aim is to raise funds for community projects particularly local schools.

The late Nkune introduced Russell to Lesotho and Russell then introduced his other friends to Lesotho and the two men ended up forming a backpacker’s guide.

Russell says as a tourist he saw the beauty of Lesotho and decided to partner with Nkune to form a ‘home-stay project’ for tourists to stay during their visit.

“We sat down with Thabiso and decided to use some of his houses for tourists, we did it and the business ran quite smoothly,” Russell says.

“In 2005 we decided to set aside money to fund nearby schools, and for this project every tourist paid M5 per head and currently the fees stand at M20 per head,” he says.

Since 2005 the homestay project has raised over M40 000 and built two classrooms for two schools in Ha-Tseko and Mphere, with additional funding from the Ministry of Education and other donors.

“I have worked out the exact finances regarding the classrooms we have financed. Both classrooms are now complete, but only the Ha-Tseko School is being officially opened,” Sachet says.

The classroom at Ha-Tseko was built in a way that a second classroom can easily be added in the future when enough funds are raised.

The backpackers contributed M33 758 while M76 214 was the total money raised by the Drakensberg Adventures for the Lesotho School fund.

Nkune’s homestay village is known as Number 10 Riverside in Mokhotlong, no doubt a cheeky pick from 10 Downing Street, the British premier’s residence.

The Ha-Tseko Primary School’s room was officially opened last week in collaboration with the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC).

The school’s principal ’Mabatloung Nthau says the school has been running with six classrooms for a long time despite that it had seven grades.

“One classroom is shared by two classes and students are always disturbed because their attention is always being torn between two teachers who are teaching different classes at the same time,” Nthau says.

The Mokhotlong District Education Inspector, Thapelo Mtambo, thanked Russell and the Nkune family for raising the funds to build the classroom.

Mtambo said the Ministry of Education will provide learning materials to the children.

“The gift is a sign of peace between tourists and Basotho in general. Students will enjoy learning in this new classroom while also awaiting implementation of new curriculum,” Mtambo says.

The LTDC spokeswoman ’Manchafalo Motšoeneng says the corporation is pleased with ’Mathabo Nkune who took over after her husband’s death and made the project successful.

“We as the LTDC believe it is in our best interest for every aspiring Mosotho to achieve better things through tourism,” Motšoeneng.

Sachet’s homestays concept has spread to other parts of Mokhotlong and is creating jobs for the locals.

However, there are some problems with some tour operators refusing to pay the home owners despite that there is a binding agreement signed between them and the LTDC.

The refusal by some operators to pay the fees is hitting hard some owners of the homestays, especially those who are relying on the arrangement for a living.

Nthati Moiloa, 21, says the tourists have been visiting the place since 2003 without any fee and when the LTDC made this arrangement she felt relieved.

“More than 50 tourists per day would visit my place and I would serve them bread, tell them the history of Lesotho and do Basotho dances such as ndlamo and litolobonya for them for free,” Moiloa says.

The tourists would voluntarily give her some gifts not necessarily paying any fee.

She says she welcomes groups of tourists into her house at Sekiring village and assists the tour guides with explanations about the life and the lifestyle of Basotho.

A tourist will have at least one mug of home brewed beer (joala) and some bread for the group to taste.

“After some several visits by the LTDC it was then that in October this year the tourists paid for a visit, they started with M5 then it was increased to M10,” she says.

Manager of Sani Pass Tour, Muory Cairns, from Underberg in South Africa, says the LTDC arbitrarily decided to increase the fee per visit and as a result some operators withdrew their support to the homestays.

“We did not refuse to pay M20 per visit for every tourist, we paid that amount for three to five days then went to Sani Pass Tour board to renegotiate this deal. For each and every change that has to be done in the company, the board has to approve such change,” Cairns says.

“We are happy to pay that amount. In February next year we are going to pay that amount after the board has approved such change,” he says.

He says he takes some of his tourists to the Sekiring village where they used to give villagers some gifts and “tourists know they have to buy a package of candles, soya mince and other things from my company”.

“This package costs M180 but I sell it at M100, this is a non-profitable thing for Basotho,” he says.

The LTDC encourages homestay owners to sell traditional Basotho crafts to visitors and meals and benefit the local communities.

Cairns says he has pledged to bring a group of tourists to Sekiring at least every day and explain to the group prior to arrival in Sekiring that all services are paid for.

Moiloa says “this business is very challenging because other tourists refuse to pay, saying they have paid the tour guide and the guide is the one who will pay for them”.

She says sometimes tour operators “talk to us in a very bad way, like we are their kids”.

She however says in most cases they make profit because on busy days like Thursdays “we make more than M500 per day”.

“Truly it is a good business, especially because we are unemployed,” she says.

Motšoeneng says the LTDC is working on training tour guides.

“We are starting with sensitising Basotho first about the importance of tourism, standardised and checked implementation is in progress,” she said.

Motšoeneng says the rural homestay project is a unique way of promoting tourism in villages.

“The tourists come to rural areas they otherwise would never get to see and live with families, a true cultural exchange,” she says.

“The homestays experience offers a chance to give back to local communities. For remote areas, this creates self-employment and is a chance to get their share of tourism revenue,” she says.

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