A TOURISM official recently revealed that the sector had in 2008 raked in M207 million, a 35 percent jump from the M154.2 million revenue realised the previous year.
This at a time when –– according to Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) figures –– arrivals from the main source market dipped over the same period.
While arrivals from the key South Africa market dropped, it was encouraging to note an increase in the number of visitors from America, Europe and Asia.
The figures are quite flattering though.
It is imperative to note that the LTDC statistics are based on not-so-reliable information that includes the number of all visitors to Lesotho regardless of the purposes.
Arrival figures alone mean nothing unless they translate into real benefits for our kingdom.
Hence the M207 million believed to have been realised by the tourism sector last year is, we are afraid, a mockery of the industry’s immense potential to become the bastion of Lesotho’s frail economy.
The story of Lesotho has been about a country hurtling from one crisis to another.
Indeed we are grappling with the effects of drought and an HIV and Aids plague believed to have infected about a third of all adults.
Our resources are limited, leaving us precariously reliant on continental economic powerhouse South Africa, which entirely envelops Lesotho.
Proceeds from minerals and water and electricity exports have failed to trigger economic emancipation for the majority of Lesotho’s 1.8 million people who get by on less than a dollar a day.
The textiles sector –– touted as Lesotho’s future –– has been haemorrhaged by moribund trade which has continued to weigh down global economic recovery.
This inevitably leaves tourism as one of the key sectors that could just give the kiss of life to an economy that has over the years been over-dependent on South Africa.
We are quite cognisant of the effects of the global recession on holiday spending.
But Lesotho has done little if not nothing to hype the kingdom as the best alternative for holidaymakers seeking cheaper yet unforgettable getaways.
We must not conveniently forget that Maseru was recently ranked the word’s cheapest place to live in.
Igniting tourism’s latent potential goes beyond addressing workshops.
And it certainly takes much more than simply peddling Lesotho as the “kingdom in the sky”.
It is one thing to have such a beautiful country and quite another to attract real tourists to it.
It takes vigorous marketing to tell Africa and the world that winter in Lesotho’s mountainous regions is quite a mind-blowing experience.
What with chances to ski and admire scenic, snow-powdered mountains.
It requires concerted efforts to convince would-be tourists that pony-trekking, racing and abseiling down waterfalls in Lesotho are amazing attractions.
Needless to say, the most critical thing is for all players –– from the government to the private sector –– to draw up synergic and holistic strategies to turn around tourism.
It is fundamental to comprehend that a turnaround in the sector is not achievable without attending to other economic, social and infrastructural aspects.
Therefore the need to have enough accommodation, a proper road network, basic health facilities, water and electricity supplies as well as communication services cannot be overemphasised.
The 2010 World Cup, to be hosted by South Africa, is less than a year away.
The football extravaganza provides the entire region, including Lesotho, with a godsend to turn around economic fortunes.
It provides our kingdom with a precious opportunity to rev up its tourism sector.
Lesotho, by virtue of its geographical location, is better positioned to enjoy economic spin-offs from the tournament.
But expecting to benefit from the World Cup by virtue of our geographical position alone will be vain.
Tourists will simply go where they will get value for their money.
The work is cut out for all players, especially the government at large, to ensure Lesotho will not settle for tourism crumbs.