The contribution of tourism to economic growth continues to rise, both in Lesotho and across the globe, backed by strong demand from international travellers, particularly from emerging markets.
A well-developed tourism sector is important for generating foreign exchange and sustainable incomes at all economic levels. Lesotho is fortunate to possess a wealth of tourism assets, such as outstanding natural beauty and a unique cultural identity; factors which enhance its competitive edge in the international tourism industry and make the sector ripe for investment.
Enviable domestic tourism draw-cards are complemented by the Mountain Kingdom’s close proximity to South Africa, which is the biggest destination (in terms of visitor numbers) in Sub-Saharan Africa and boasts an extensive network of tour operators. This gives Lesotho the opportunity to tap into the strengths of its neighbour and position itself as an add-on destination for international tourists. As South Africa is the largest source of international travellers in Africa, Lesotho has a huge tourist source market on its doorstep.
Tourism’s potential for propelling economic growth and generating employment can be enhanced if obstacles such as the sector’s presently underdeveloped infrastructure, limited entrepreneurship and capacity, and lack of effective marketing are addressed. Government’s current objective is thus to promote the development of existing tourism products and selected circuits to their full potential, including community-based projects that are integrated with other sectors, and intensify the drive to market Lesotho as a preferred tourist destination.
Travel & Tourism Economic Impact Report 2014
Although Lesotho’s tourism sector is small in absolute size – 165th out of 184 countries in 2013, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) in its 2014 Travel & Tourism Economic Impact Report – other indicators have shown a distinct improvement in the past few years. The sector’s relative contribution to the national economy rose from 106th place in 2010 to 67th in 2013, and the long-term growth forecast (2014-2024) puts it at number 29 internationally, which is a huge leap compared with 69th place in 2011 and 137th in 2010.
The report estimates the direct contribution of travel and tourism to Lesotho’s GDP at 5.5 percent of total GDP (2013), and anticipates that it will grow by 5.7 percent per annum to 6.1 percent of GDP by 2024. This reflects economic activity generated by industries such as hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transportation services (excluding commuter services), as well as restaurant and leisure industries directly supported by tourists.
By 2024, international tourist arrivals are forecast to total 766 000, generating expenditure of M477.4 million.
According to the same criteria of travel and tourism activity, the industry directly supported 25 000 jobs in 2013, translating to 4.6 percent of total employment in the country. The WTTC predicts that by 2024, travel and tourism will account for 34 000 jobs (5.6 percent of total employment), which is an increase of 3.2 percent per year over the next decade.
At present, most spending is generated by business travel (87.1 percent in 2013), while leisure travel is responsible for 12.9 percent of direct travel and tourism GDP. At the same time, the sector attracted capital investment of M414.6 million in 2013, which should rise by 3.0 percent per annum to M549.0 million in 2024.
Lesotho’s National Strategic Development Plan (2012/13-2016/17) aims to facilitate tourism product development, increasing community participation as well as cooperative marketing in the region and linkages with the rest of the world through ICT solutions and improvements in customer service and hospitality standards. Objectives for the NSDP period are to:
- Develop tourism products and circuits to their full potential
- Increase the visibility and marketability of Lesotho as a destination of choice
- Improve the quality and standard of services in the sector
- Protect, conserve and promote the viable use of tourism, cultural heritage and resources
- Improve institutional support services
Under the Plan, the target is to increase demand by 50 percent. This will bring the number of tourists to approximately 500 000 by 2016/17. Although the impact on GDP will be limited (up by 0.2 percent or M54 million in real terms), it is estimated that employment in the sector will rise by approximately 25 percent. Many of these jobs will be created in rural areas, where the highest levels of under-employment occur.
In 2013/14, Government began the process of streamlining the institutional responsibilities of the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture and the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) in order to create a distinct demarcation between policy and promotion. It also began work on a tourism master plan to facilitate implementation of circuit route development to better link the country’s various tourism areas and attractions. The 2014/15 budget speech reported that this initiative is ongoing.
With the assistance of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank Group, Lesotho’s Government is developing strategies for the effective management of existing tourism structures and the review of tourism licensing procedures to make them quicker and less costly. As of February 2014, the final ‘Tourism Licensing Review and Reform Recommendations’ report as well as the draft ‘Legal Implementation’ report, which outlines the legal amendments to tourism licensing procedures in Lesotho, had been received, and the drafting of the recommended legal amendments had begun.
2013 VISITOR SURVEY
The 2013 Visitor Survey, conducted by the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC), revealed a number of key indicators as regards the country’s tourism statistics and current visitor patterns.
A total of 432 000 international visitors travelled to Lesotho in 2013, of which 92 percent were residents of South Africa, and over 58 percent were repeat visitors. Out of all visitors, almost 28 percent travelled for leisure, 11 percent for business, and over 61 percent for ‘other’ purposes (mainly visiting friends and relatives). Ten countries account for 97.5 percent of all tourist arrivals. After South Africa, these comprise the Netherlands and Germany.
Maseru was the busiest port of entry, accounting for 36 percent of all arrivals, with leisure tourists most likely to arrive via the border posts of Maseru, Caledonspoort and Sani Pass. About half the tourists were between the ages of 25 and 44, and almost 65 percent of all tourist arrivals were male, although the split was approximately 50-50 in the leisure tourism sector.
The Sani Pass is the most popular attraction in Lesotho, visited by 26 percent of all visitors and by 42 percent of all leisure visitors, followed by Katse Dam and Afriski.
The average length of stay for all tourists visiting Lesotho was five nights. Those visiting friends and relatives stayed the longest (seven nights), while leisure tourists stayed for an average of four nights. Tourists from the United States stayed for the longest timespan, at eight days. Overall, 39 percent of visitors travel alone and 28 percent travel as a couple, with just 5 percent of all arrivals travelling in groups of six people or more.
Tourists spent an estimated M1.5 billion in the country during 2013: 81 percent of this sum came from South African residents and a further 10 percent from the European markets, most significantly the Netherlands. M1 025 was the average spent by each tourist per night, with business tourists averaging M2 877 and leisure tourists M1 141.
Mountains were the key attraction for visitors (more than 47 percent), followed by scenery (almost 40 percent) and friends/relatives (24 percent). General sightseeing was the most popular activity, enjoyed by 37 percent of all visitors and 51 percent of leisure visitors, with other popular activities including 4x4 trails, hiking, pony trekking and skiing. Hotels and lodges accounted for 40 percent of all accommodation used by tourists, and a substantial 34 percent of visitors stayed with friends or relatives.
Visitors were also asked what their biggest disappointments were during their stay in Lesotho. The main issue for most people was the poor service and attitude of police and immigration officers, although there were also negative comments with regard to poor road signage and directions, sub-standard accommodation, poor communications infrastructure, lack of traffic control and lack of petrol stations and toilets in the rural areas.
LESOTHO TOURISM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION
The Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) promotes Lesotho as a preferred tourist and tourism investment destination, both locally and internationally, through strategic marketing and sustainable product and industry development in partnership with the private sector and the community.
In order to properly plan and assess the development of the tourism sector, the accurate measurement of tourist statistics is vital. In the case of arrivals, it is necessary to – at the very least – capture visitors’ country of residence and purpose of visit. This is particularly important in view of the ongoing computerisation of border posts across Africa, with some countries having implemented a system whereby immigration officials scan the traveller’s passport, stamp it, and then simply grant entry without ascertaining the purpose of their visit.
The goal in Lesotho is to ensure that immigration officials at the border posts not only electronically capture useful data encoded into the passport of each traveller, such as age, gender and nationality, but also ask each arrival what their purpose of visit, country of residence and intended length of stay is. An initiative undertaken by the LTDC as part of the World Bank’s successful Private Sector Competitiveness Project facilitates the loading of information onto an online database, enabling the sharing of these statistics. Hotels, tourist attractions, and potential investors, as well as the Lesotho Government, will be able to access these statistics for the purposes of planning, marketing and monitoring.
Tourism month celebrations with the theme of ‘Tourism and Community Development’ were launched at Afriski resort at the beginning of September 2014 by the LTDC in partnership with Limkokwing University of Creative Technology and Leseli Tours.
Marketing and promotion
Lesotho’s tourism industry is exposed to international markets through articles in magazines and brochures, as well as participation in international tourism fairs, such as Germany’s International Tourism Bourse and London’s World Trade Market. The country is also well represented at South Africa’s Indaba, the largest tourism marketing event on the African calendar and one of the top-three ‘must visit’ events of its kind internationally.
Another very popular vehicle for marketing tourism and tourist attractions is the internet, and Lesotho has an online presence in the form of the LTDC’s tourism website: www.visitlesotho.travel. Figures from the most recent visitor survey indicate that in 2013 approximately 33 percent of leisure visitors used the internet to plan their trip and just over 8 percent used the LTDC website.
According to the LTDC’s chief executive officer, Mpaiphele Maqutu, decision-makers are a major target in the organisation’s new marketing strategy (LTDC Newsletter, January 2014). This makes the forging of strong partnerships with leaders from both the public and private sectors critical. If decision-makers are introduced to the beauty of the country’s top tourist attractions they will able equipped to function as ambassadors for Lesotho when travelling abroad.
As reported in the 2014 LTDC Newsletter, other top priorities for the organisation include revisiting the ‘natural heritage destination’ branding of Lesotho and increasing partnerships with South Africa. Enhancing and elaborating on the strong and internationally accepted ‘Kingdom in the Sky’ tag-line is also on the cards.
Private sector involvement
The LTDC is committed to setting up robust private sector engagement forums to improve the participation of business in all aspects of the tourism product. Further investment in the development of tourism assets through public-private partnerships and collaborations with NGOs is in the spotlight. There is also a need to identify areas requiring attention, such as road networks, cable cars to limit environmental disturbance, electricity and water utilities and accommodation facilities.
There is scope to increase local input in the tour operator business, which is currently dominated by Lesotho’s African neighbours. The recent rollout of the accommodation star grading system will also go a long way towards supporting private accommodation businesses to improve their facilities and ensure a world-class hospitality sector.
Star Grading Programme
The Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture launched Lesotho’s progressive star grading programme in August 2013, and planned to grade at least 30 accommodation facilities in the programme’s first year of operation. The Grading Council, which is a division of the LTDC, was established with support funding from the World Bank and enjoys standards consistent with the RETOSA (Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa) harmonised standards.
The star grading system is an internationally recognised method of classifying the quality of any accommodation facility based on a one to five star rating. This is one of the first such programmes in the region to integrate grading standards that reflect both the overall quality of the lodging facility as well as its environmental impact and suitability for guests with disabilities. Facilities cover six categories; namely, hotels, lodges, guesthouses, B&Bs, self-catering units and camp sites, with the emphasis on features such as room size, furniture and linen, structural soundness, cleanliness, cuisine, bathroom facilities, service and reception facilities. The process is benchmarked on the experiences of Botswana and South Africa.
Establishments in strategic locations are being earmarked for upgrading so as to maximise their contribution to the Lesotho tourism product. The popular Maloti Route is one of those targeted in order to ensure the legitimate development of this high-value travel corridor. Locations that are close to the Lesotho-South Africa border may also receive additional support, thereby encouraging South Africans to stay overnight in Lesotho rather than a cross-border establishment.
The system is currently voluntary, but will be mandatory by 2016. SADC countries have agreed to harmonise their grading standards so that by 2016 all graded facilities will be able to offer a similar experience, whether in Lesotho, South Africa or any other of the 15 member states.
The LTDC highlights the importance of putting in place strategies that are inclusive of local communities who inhabit the areas surrounding tourist attractions. The idea is for these communities to participate in collectively developing tourism products and to take ownership of various projects. Entrepreneurial ventures need to be supported to enable locals to tap into the sector and benefit meaningfully. This adds value not only to those communities but also enhances the overall tourism experience for visitors.
Part and parcel of this initiative is to sensitise communities to the importance of tourism to their livelihoods and the economy as a whole. The LTDC has embarked on a nationwide awareness campaign, centred on the country’s top tourism attractions and routes, to educate locals about how to treat tourists. Herdsmen are one of the target groups for such campaigns.
LESOTHO COUNCIL FOR TOURISM
The Lesotho Council for Tourism (LCT), which was launched in January 2009, brings Lesotho’s different tourism subsectors under one umbrella body. The LCT is committed to the growth and expansion of the tourism industry in Lesotho, and works with government to raise the profile of the tourism private sector and ensure the sustainability of tourism businesses.
The council affords its members access to: professional and industry-relevant training; financial and other forms of support for restructuring and expansion of tourism businesses; promotional opportunities for tourism products locally and internationally; membership of international tourism bodies such as RETOSA and SATSA (Southern African Tourism Association).
The LCT plans to make Lesotho a tourism destination of choice with unique and quality tourism products. Some specific goals include improving the quality of service and customer care in the industry, encouraging local and international investment in tourism, improving and promoting the quality and packaging of tourism attractions, and collaborating with regional and international partners to promote tourism in Lesotho. The council also encourages community-based tourism and works to improve national policies and regulations in the industry.
Lesotho’s topography and high altitude – and status as one of the three remaining African kingdoms – are features that set it apart from other destinations on the continent. Moreover, as the only country in Africa with regular winter snowfall, it offers a distinctive African-cum-alpine experience unmatched in the region. Outstanding features include the towering Maloti and Drakensberg mountain ranges, surging waterfalls, crystal clear streams, rich flora and fauna, and vivid cultural heritage. There are a variety of sites of geological, historical and archaeological importance, including rock art in the highlands and dinosaur footprints embedded in the sandstone of the lowlands.
As visitors traverse the winding mountain road that crosses the Sani Pass into the Lesotho highlands, they will be left with little doubt as to why the country is so often described as the ‘Kingdom in the Sky’ and the ‘Switzerland of Africa’. Thabana-Ntlenyana, the highest mountain in southern Africa, is a 15-kilometre hike away from Sani Top village. Travelling further into the highlands, the dramatic ‘Roof of Africa’ route unfolds through the 3 240-metre Kotesipola Pass, down into the valley below and the town of Mokhotlong.
The Kingdom of Lesotho’s high altitude brings clearly marked seasons, with tourists able to experience the best of summer, winter, spring and autumn.
Despite its subtropical latitude, Lesotho’s elevated altitude means that it is free of both bilharzia and malaria. The climate is continental, with hot summers and cold winters, marked by clear blue skies and brilliant sunshine for more than 300 days a year. Long, hot summers are followed by warm autumn days that are ideal for hiking and pony trekking. However, these high altitudes also make weather patterns unpredictable, and beautiful cloudless conditions can rapidly give way to thundershowers or snowfalls.
This remarkable mountain habitat is home to many rare and endemic species, and while wildlife is not prolific, the varieties to be found have made fascinating adaptations to their environment. These include rhebuck, mountain reedbuck, baboons, jackals and smaller animals such as rock hyraxes, mongoose, meerkats and ice rats. Reptiles include the small yet very rare berg-adder. It is quite common to see vultures and eagles soaring on thermals, with less usual species comprising the sentinel rock-thrush, orange-breasted rock-jumper and bald ibis.
The mountain ranges are home to 280 different varieties of birds, some of which are endemic. Birding takes place primarily between October and March, with the Sani Pass area ranking as one of the top ten birding spots in Southern Africa. The cold mountain streams of Lesotho are good for fly fishing at most times of year, with the exception of the rainy season.
Lesotho’s national flower, the spiral aloe, may be seen on the slopes of the Maloti Mountains. During spring, the hills are covered with a diverse variety of alpine flowers, while the valleys are covered in peach blossom and mimosa.
Lesotho offers its visitors a varied choice of accommodation. There are sophisticated hotels with casinos and lodges with conference facilities, as well as comfortable chalets, B&Bs, self-catering cottages and backpackers’ hostels. Maseru boasts two large international-standard hotels, and in more remote locales there are options to experience real Basotho life through home-stays in traditional villages. A number of construction projects have been completed in the past few years, with the luxurious Maliba Mountain Lodge and self-catering Maliba River Lodge in Tšehlanyane National Park a prime example of a successful public-private partnership.
Sun International has entered into a partnership with hospitality group Minor International (MINT) that will see MINT take over 80 percent of its interests in Lesotho. This includes the Lesotho Sun and Maseru Sun, which are to be rebranded as either ‘Anantara’ or ‘Avani’. While MINT has taken over the hotel and hospitality aspect of operations, Sun International will continue to run the casino component of these properties. The Lesotho Sun Mountain Privé launched in April 2014 is a high-profile wing of the hotel’s gaming facility, and follows the re-launch of Sun International’s slots operation at Maseru Sun in February.
Skiing and snow sports
Lesotho boasts picturesque landscapes and snow-covered mountain slopes during winter, making it unique to southern Africa and ideal for skiing and other snow-dependant activities.
With most of the country lying at more than 1 500 metres, snow can fall up to nine months of the year, peaking during the winter months of June, July and August. In the highlands, snow skiing takes place below the Mahlasela Pass, which is just a five-hour drive from Johannesburg via the Caledonspoort border post.
The slopes of AFRISKI Mountain Resort – Africa’s highest ski resort – attract around 10 000 visitors during the winter months every year. The resort, as well as the Sky Restaurant, is open all year round, and is an ideal venue for conferences. In winter the ski slopes are serviced by a 1-kilometre long T-bar lift as well as three beginner lifts with a travelator for children and complete beginners. A snowmaking system ensures that skiing is possible throughout winter, even when there is little natural snow about. And in summer, adventure activities such as 4x4 outrides, quad and motorbike eco rides, mountain biking, abseiling, hiking, fly fishing and high altitude fitness training may be enjoyed high up in the majestic Maluti mountains.
During the skiing months of June to end August, there are various nursery and intermediate slopes – in addition to the main 3 220-metre high Mahlasela ski slope – with qualified instructors available for first-time as well as more experienced skiers. The Pudi children’s club offers supervised snow activities. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, the latest craze is bum-boarding and snow tubing! Equipment and ski lessons may be booked directly at the resort, but pre-booking is advisable.
Organised like an Alpine ski village, Afriski offers a multitude of accommodation styles, from superior to modest, in mountain chalets, ski lodges and apartments, and can sleep a total of 250 guests. Other amenities include the Gondola Café Après Ski Bar situated at the foot of the ski slope, as well as Africa’s highest restaurant a stone’s throw away from the ski slope. There truly is something for everyone, and experiencing Africa’s snow first-hand is a must-do experience. For further information, view the website www.afriski.net or contact Central Reservations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adventure sports and trails
Lesotho’s dramatic topography, comprising mountains, rivers, waterfalls and dams, is a great attraction for lovers of adventure and all forms of high-altitude sports. The Mohale and Katse dams as well as the larger rivers, are great for water sports, while the Senqu River offers good kayaking opportunities. The highest single-drop waterfall in Southern Africa is found at the Maletsunyane Falls.
The 204- metre abseil off the edge of the Maletsunyane Falls, to the bottom of the gorge, operated by Semonkong Lodge, holds the Guinness World Record for the longest commercially operated single- drop abseil. This is abseiling at its best and most exciting, but definitely not for the faint-hearted! To help visitors familiarise themselves with the equipment and techniques used on this extreme abseil, Semonkong Lodge offers a half-day of training with qualified guides on much more modest cliffs of around 25 metres. The real fun begins the following day after an early-morning drive by 4X4 out to the abseil site. Visitors should bring a good pair of hiking boots and quick-drying pants or a change of clothing; a water-proof jacket is also advisable. Gentler abseiling excursions are available on the pleasant cliffs around the Lodge.
Hiking is popular, particularly for backpackers and those wishing to explore the mountain trails. Semonkong Lodge offers pony trekking through Lesotho’s spectacular scenery on the back of a gentle yet sure-footed Basotho pony. There are day rides of up to five hours which take in the Maletsunyane Falls or even Mount Qoang, the highest mountain in the area. The overnight pony trekking adventures involve several hours of riding per day, which may be strenuous for some but are a wonderful way to experience the wilds of Lesotho and sights such as Ketane Waterfall, the Thaba Putsoa Mountains and Ha Mojalefa. All luggage is carried on packhorses, and accommodation is in Basotho villages.
There are also motor biking and quad biking adventures, as well as 4x4 trails in the highlands, with off-road driving offering many challenges as well as breathtaking mountain scenery. The Roof of Africa, which takes place in the Maloti Mountains during December, is considered to be one of the world’s toughest off-road endurance events and attracts the best international Xtreme Enduro competitors. Held in conjunction with Maloraneng Lodge and Afriski, the Basali Maluti 4x4 Xtreme, first held in April 2014, is an annual four-day event for women wishing to test their skills over a mountainous route which for the most part exceeds 3 000 metres above sea level.
Another popular outdoor activity is mountain biking, with rocky trails following routes through the mountain passes. Biking tours may be organised, and usually take place over three to five days.
An international mountain bike race bringing together top athletes from across the globe, the Lesotho Sky Mountain Bike Stage Race covers some of the best trails and terrain in Africa over a series of spectacular passes. Taking place every September, the race follows a challenging six-day route, which in 2014 totalled 344 kilometres with an ascent of 8 660 metres and stopovers at the Lesotho Sun, Ramabanta Trading Post, Malealea Lodge and Roma Trading Post. The next race takes place from 20 to 25 September 2015 over 381 kilometres with 8 975 metres of climbing.
The event has been a UCI race since 2013 and hosts both professional and amateur teams. Every year the top 14 riders from Lesotho qualify and partake in the race. Thanks to this development, Lesotho is now ranked 2nd in Africa (behind South Africa) and 31st in the world. Cycling is also the highest ranked sport in Lesotho, ahead of football and athletics.
An event for families
The first Lesotho Sky Adventure Weekend was held at Malealea Lodge from 4 to 6 April 2014 and involved various trails for both mountain bikers and runners, including the Malealea Monster MTB Challenge over distances of 8, 25 or 55 kilometres, and both night and day trail runs. The next adventure weekend is planned for 29-31 May 2015.
The Sentebale charity which works with vulnerable children was founded in 2006 by Britain’s Prince Harry and Lesotho’s Prince Seeiso and is the official charity of the Lesotho Sky race. For more information please go to www.lesothosky.com
The Sani Pass is a magnet for running and cycling enthusiasts. In addition to the Sani Pass Transfrontier MTB Epic which takes place every June, events include the Sani Stagger marathon and half marathon events in November. Another top running event is the Lesotho High Altitude Summer Marathon (December), which starts in Mokhotlong and follows a challenging route 3 000 metres above sea level over asphalt and gravel roads through the pristine Maloti Mountains. Based at Afriski, the Soaring Eagle Run is an international trail run taking place over two days in October.
Lesotho is also renowned for its fly fishing. The Maletsunyane River was stocked with trout in the late 1950s, and today Semonkong Lodge offers fly fisherman a pristine piece of river with two distinctly different fishing zones created by the Maletsunyane Falls. On the easily accessible stretch above the waterfall there’s a realistic possibility of catching a ten-pound wild Brown trout, while hiking (or abseiling) to the bottom of the falls reveals excellent fishing opportunities for Rainbow as well as Brown trout and Yellowfish. The lodge also hosts extreme fly fishing adventures lasting up to seven days downstream of the falls, where the river has carved out a magnificent gorge. Only fly fishing is permitted, and this is strictly on a catch and release basis between the months of September and April. All proceeds from fishing licences go to the local guides and to the Maletsunyane River Conservation Fund.
For abseiling, fly fishing and pony trekking adventures, contact Semonkong Lodge, tel +266 2700 6037 / 6202 1021, email: email@example.com.
Katse Dam & Botanical Gardens
The impressive Katse Dam, with its 185-metre high dam wall, is the largest of the five dams built as part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project – the greatest engineering project in the southern hemisphere when it was built in the 1990s. One of Lesotho’s must-see tourist attractions, Katse is best viewed from the 3 090-metre Mafika-Lisiu Pass, where there is a car park and viewsite. The now-renovated Katse Information Centre includes a model of the dam showing the series of tunnels and pumps which form part of the water transfer scheme. Guided tours are offered daily at 09:00 and 14:00.
Located on the banks of the Katse Dam, Motebong Village offers self-catering accommodation for groups, individuals and families. Its high altitude makes it ideal for training, and it recently served as a training camp for South Africa’s rowing team. Motebong’s location close to the village of Ha Lejone affords visitors the opportunity to interact with the Basotho and explore their culture. Current initiatives include the formation of pony trekking associations with the local community. Furthermore, the lodge has introduced skills development training for crafters at Ha Lejone.
Lesotho’s flora is uniquely adapted to the afro-alpine environment. Near the Katse Dam are the Katse Alpine Botanical Gardens, which were created to preserve some of the indigenous flora that was displaced in the construction of the dam, especially orchids and the spiral aloe, Lesotho’s national flower. The garden’s setting of paved hillside trails, rock gardens and flowers displays the country’s diverse mountain flora and plant heritage in a natural setting, as well as preserving rare and endangered species. There are two tours per day, at 09:00 and 14:00, Monday to Friday, and 09:00 and 11:00 on weekends and public holidays.
The LTDC has announced that a national museum and art gallery is to be built to preserve the history of the Basotho and tell their true story as a people.
Culture and heritage
Lesotho’s natural beauty has at its foundation a strong cultural base, symbolised by a constitutional monarchy and the proud history of the nation’s celebrated founder and leader, King Moshoeshoe I, whose footsteps can be traced from Botha-Bothe to Thaba Bosiu. Cultural tourism has the potential to play a central role in economic development, and Lesotho boasts a number of must-see cultural attractions, including rock art sites, cultural villages and national monuments.
Established in 1956, the Morija Museum & Archives (MMA) www.morija.co.ls lies just over 40 kilometres south of Maseru. It contains valuable archival material and museum collections, which have been growing incrementally since the 19th century and today form the basis for research and publishing as well as exhibitions and educational programmes for schools, visitors and tourists. MMA is also involved in a range of arts and culture projects, as well as heritage and community-based tourism initiatives, the most notable being Maeder House Art Gallery, the embryonic Morija Arts Centre, the annual Morija Arts & Cultural Festival, and the nation-wide School Cultural Competitions.
MMA opening hours are 08:00-17:00, Monday-Saturday, and 12:00-17:00 on Sundays. It is closed on Easter Sunday, Christmas and New Year’s Day. (Contact Morija Museum and Archives, PO Box 308, Morija 190, Lesotho, tel +266 2236 0308)
Morija Museum & Archives has helped to develop and encourage a wider range of tourism services and products in the area, including tours of historic Morija and dinosaur footprints, walking trails, bird watching and pony trekking, guest houses, a conference centre, traditional village experiences and home-stays, and the production of arts and crafts. Morija Guest House holds regular ‘Sesotho Language and Culture’ weekends where participants learn the basics of the Sesotho tongue and acquire useful knowledge of Lesotho’s history and culture.
It was announced in October 2013 that a Heritage Park is being developed in the area below Morija Museum to accommodate various events and serve as the new main arena for the Morija Festival. It will link the Arts Centre and Maeder House Gallery with the Amphitheatre and Museum, as well as with adjacent institutions like the English medium school, Morija Printing Works and historic Morija Church. The hope is that a new synergy of activities and businesses will grow up in this area, providing a unique destination in Lesotho for visitors from near and far.
Situated about 25 kilometres east of Maseru, the national monument of Thaba-Bosiu is one of Lesotho’s most famous sites because of its significance to Basotho heritage. Once serving as the mountain fortress of King Moshoeshoe I, it comprises a steep, flat-topped mountain, its summit encircled by a belt of perpendicular cliffs which tower over the surrounding valley. From here, King Moshoeshoe successfully defended the Basotho people against their attackers for many years.
There is a visitors’ information centre at the base of the mountain, and guided tours are available to the summit. Moshoeshoe’s grave – a cairn of stones – can be seen at the burial place on the hilltop, as can his restored two-roomed house nearby. The summit also affords commanding views of the countryside, including Qiloane pinnacle which inspired the top-knot on the Basotho hat.
Located below the visitors’ information centre, the impressive Thaba-Bosiu Cultural Village complements the nearby national monument. It was developed to showcase the traditional Basotho lifestyle, illustrated in aspects such as housing, entertainment, arts, crafts and indigenous plants. The village comprises 41 huts, a site museum and interpretative centre, live-performance amphitheatre with a capacity of 700, ceremonial spaces, botanical gardens and handicraft outlets. Constituent tribes of the early Basotho are represented, along with Stone Age cave-dwellers and the arrival of Colonial forces. In addition, a 250-seat conference centre will place it at the forefront of venues for hosting local, regional and even international think-tanks.
Hidden underneath an overhang in the pink and orange sandstone cliffs some 25 kilometres east of Teyateyaneng lies the mysterious Kome Cave Village. These sheltered dwellings were built in the early decades of the nineteenth century by Chief Teleka of the Basia as a refuge from the marauding cannibals who inhabited the area. The village is near Ha ‘Matjotjo, where the notorious cannibals’ hideout of Malimong and Bokhopa Mountain is to be found.
The Bushmen, also known as the ‘San’, left behind a fascinating array of rock art in caves and rock shelters across Lesotho. The Masitise (Ellenberger) Cave House Museum in the vicinity of Quthing is part of an old mission house that was built into a San rock shelter by Reverend David-Frederic Ellenberger in 1866. Today it functions as a small museum with some good displays on local history and culture. Accommodation is available in rondavels or the caretaker’s cottage, and home-stays are offered in nearby Tsatsane.
Ha Baroana is one of the most important of Lesotho’s rock art sites, and can be reached along a 5.5-kilometre gravel road, which leaves the main Mountain Road just 39 kilometres east of Maseru. The paintings, which are to be found underneath an overhanging rock, depict scenes of everyday life, like hunting and dancing, as well as animals such as leopard, lion and eland, blue crane and guinea fowl.
The annual Morija Arts and Cultural Festival showcases the richness and diversity of Basotho culture and talent. The event was first held in 1999 in an effort to promote peace, unity and confidence among Basotho. Today it is Lesotho’s premier cultural event, and has grown immensely in terms of activities, participants and visitors.
The emphasis of the festival is on reviving various aspects of Basotho culture through song, music, art and dance, while boosting tourism and promoting crafters and small-scale manufacturers. In doing this, it brings together people of different views and backgrounds to celebrate their own culture while experiencing the culture of neighbours and other residents of Lesotho.
Morija Museum has from the outset played a key role in coordinating the festival, which is usually held every September or October over a period of four days. Attractions include arts and crafts as well as cultural groups and performers – both traditional and modern – of music, dance, comedy and poetry from across Lesotho and neighbouring countries. There are also tours, youth activities, horse shows and mountain biking events.
The 2014 Morija Arts & Cultural Festival, scheduled for 23-28 September 2014, was postponed as a result of the uncertain political situation in Lesotho at the time. Many aspects of the festival, like the Mohlomi Memorial Lecture, art and craft exhibitions, book launches, poetry sessions, wire car competitions, film, theatre, fashion, and so forth are being rescheduled to a later date in consultation with sponsors, partners and stakeholders. Unfortunately, the 2014 School Cultural Competitions, which could only be held at this time, had to be cancelled. Details and dates for the 2015 Morija Festival will be made available on the website: www.morija.co.ls.
Held annually in March, Moshoeshoe Day is a national holiday commemorating the life of the country’s great leader, King Moshoeshoe I, who was a staunch defender of the language, art and culture of Lesotho. The main celebrations take place in Maseru, where visitors can witness the richness of local traditions.
The annual Lesotho Tourism Festival happens every December, with activities such as a jazz festival, divas’ concert, poetry, comedy nights, parties and a golf tournament. Formerly centred on Maseru, the main concert now takes place at Thaba-Bosiu Cultural Village.
Taking place annually since 2010, the popular Mehloding Heritage Event Horse Race in Mparane is a highlight on the calendar and presently features 130 horses and nine horse clubs. The race was introduced by the Freedom Challenge trans-South Africa mountain bike event in conjunction with the Mehloding Community Tourism Trust, and coincides with the 500-kilometre Ride to Rhodes.
NATIONAL PARKS & RESERVES
Lesotho’s national parks and reserves are under the jurisdiction of two different entities – Lesotho National Parks (+266 2231 1767), which manages Sehlabathebe National Park, and Lesotho Northern Parks (+266 2246 0723).
Presently administered by Lesotho Northern Parks, Tšehlanyane National Park, Bokong Nature Reserve and the Liphofung Cave Cultural Historical Site were originally established by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) to compensate for the loss of biodiversity caused by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). The affected communities have benefited through tourism projects in these areas, and receive a 10 percent share of all park collections in the form of community development projects.
Sehlabathebe National Park was the first national park in Lesotho when it was proclaimed in 1970. Remote and rugged, with an average elevation of 2 400 metres, it covers 6 500 hectares of high mountain plateau bordering on South Africa. The park is characterised by high-altitude grasslands, alpine flora, waterfalls, lakes and impressive sandstone rock formations. It is home to eland, rhebok and the secretive oribi antelope, wild cats and jackals, and birds of prey such as the black eagle and rare bearded vulture.
This pristine environment makes Sehlabathebe ideal for eco-activities such as guided hiking, rock climbing and pony trekking, and there are some good fly fishing sites and Bushman paintings. Day hikes include those to Bushman’s Pass at the edge of the escarpment or to the Tsoelikane Waterfall, with its beautiful, deep pool.
Facilities include a Heritage Centre, conference facilities and thatched rondavels. There is also Jonathan’s Lodge, which was originally built in the 1970s for the personal use of the then prime minister, Leabua Jonathan. Other accommodation comprises the ranger station situated just outside the park, a campsite near the Matebeng Pass, and home-stay ventures in nearby Thamathu.
A monitoring programme for the highly threatened southern African bearded vulture is carried out by the Maloti-Drakensberg Vulture Project. Of the 25 vultures fitted with satellite transmitters over the last six years, ten have been killed – either in power line collisions or by poisoning. Only about 400 individual birds and 100 breeding pairs remain in the wild in South Africa and Lesotho.
Considered to be of outstanding universal value because of its exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance, Sehlabathebe National Park was proclaimed a World Heritage Site in 2013. As an extension of the adjoining uKhahlamba World Heritage Site, the two parks are now known as the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, Lesotho/South Africa. Together they cover an area of 249 313 hectares: the largest protected area along the great escarpment of Southern Africa.
This is not only the most important water catchment area of two countries but also an area of significant global biodiversity, characterised by unspoiled mountain scenery and a unique yet fragile ecosystem. The park provides a vital refuge for many endemic plant species and their associated fauna, particularly endemic highland birds, and there are rock art sites with Bushman paintings and other archaeological and cultural resources of universal significance.
Supported by the governments of Lesotho and South Africa, the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Programme has been active in conserving the natural and cultural heritage of the park. The development and subsequent management of accommodation facilities and other nature-based tourism ventures has contributed toward sustainable livelihoods for local communities through job creation and the establishment of joint ventures. (For further information, consult the ‘Environmental Conservation’ section.)
A 72-kilometre drive from the border post at Ficksburg, or 80 kilometres from the Caledonspoort border post, Bokong Nature Reserve lies at the head of the Mafika-Lisiu pass. Reaching an altitude of 3 090 metres above sea level, Bokong has the distinction of being the highest reserve in Africa that is accessible by motor vehicle. From the visitors’ centre there are breathtaking vistas across the Lepaqoa valley, and an impressive waterfall is formed where the Lepaqoa River drops down a sheer cliff-face into the valley below. In winter, the waterfall becomes a spectacular ice sculpture set in a snow-dusted landscape.
This 1 970-hectare reserve is home to an impressive variety of birdlife, and visitors may catch a glimpse of the rare and endangered bearded vulture as well as a number of other bird species endemic to the afro-alpine zone. Other wildlife comprises vaal rhebok and baboons, as well as colonies of endemic ice rats. Bokong also contains excellent high-altitude wetlands at the sources of the Bokong River and Lepaqoa Stream.
Hikes may be taken from Bokong across the ‘Roof of Africa’ into the Tšehlanyane National Park. While this challenging three-day trail covers a 40-kilometre route, with overnight accommodation in two simple huts, there are also a series of less strenuous day trails and interpretive walks. The use of a local guide is strongly encouraged due to the unpredictable nature of the weather at these high altitudes. Other attractions include interesting rock shelters close to the visitors’ centre, restful picnic sites, a reconstructed cattle post and pony trekking.
The largest of Lesotho’s Northern Park reserves, the Tšehlanyane National Park is a protected area located deep in the front range of the Maloti Mountains at the junction of the Tšehlanyane and Holomo rivers. The park is reached along a 32-kilometre gravel access road (negotiable in a two-wheel drive) that leaves the main A1 route about six kilometres southwest of Botha-Bothe.
Tšehlanyane encompasses 5 333 hectares of unspoiled mountain terrain containing exceptional scenic, natural and wilderness features and preserving significant biodiversity. It has one of the very few indigenous woodland areas (Leucosidea forest) in Lesotho and contains a number of undergrowth plants that are unique to this habitat. The park also boasts some mountain fynbos as well as berg bamboo on the banks of the streams which provide a habitat for the endangered butterfly species Metisella Syrinx. Small game animals are to be seen and birdlife includes bearded vulture and ground woodpecker.
Mohale Village Public-Private Partnership
The Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture intends to partner with the private sector in developing Mohale Lower Village, used by the LHDA during the construction phase of the Mohale Dam, as a component within a greater Mohale Dam Holiday Resort. The facility presently comprises 107 prefabricated houses, with a good infrastructure network which includes tarred roads, street lighting, sanitation lines and a water distribution system.
The five-star Maliba Mountain Lodge and three-star Riverside Chalets are situated inside the park. In light of the spectacular scenery, there are many opportunities for photographers. Visitors may also take a six-hour circular hiking trail, go pony trekking in the mountains or swim in the reserve’s many streams and pools.
One of Lesotho’s smallest but most intriguing national heritage sites, Liphofung Cave is situated just off the main route from Botha-Bothe to Oxbow and Mokhotlong, along a 7-kilometre concrete road. The focus of this 4-hectare reserve is a large sheltered sandstone cave containing rich archaeological deposits and some of the country’s best examples of rock art, with a number of these paintings featuring the eland after which this reserve is named. Once a San shelter, the cave was later used by the founder of the Basotho nation, King Moshoeshoe I, when visiting the area.
Liphofung has been developed with the focus on cultural education and the preservation of the rock paintings along with early Basotho history. There is a small visitor’s centre incorporating a display of Basotho culture and San rock art, along with ablution facilities and a craft outlet. Local guides are available to interpret the historical, cultural and natural significance of the site and the area as a whole. Overnight accommodation is available at a campsite, in self-catering chalets, or lodges and B&Bs nearby.
Investment in Lesotho’s tourism assets is facilitated by the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC), which offers investors:
- Provision of professional services both before and after investment
- Assistance to procure all permits (work and residence) and licenses
- Provision of investment advice and assistance in identification of strategic partners
- Organisation of visits and meetings
There are outstanding opportunities for developing accommodation facilities in specific tourist destination areas. The country is presently under-supplied with establishments of an appropriate standard, particularly in strategic tourism nodes. Katse, Mohale and other locations forming part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) are among Lesotho’s most visited attractions, and thus ideal for the building of hotels, lodges and resorts.
The tour operating and tour guiding subsector is an emerging yet fast-growing segment. Presently, the country depends heavily on South African-based tour operators to manage and coordinate tourism packages and to bring tourists into Lesotho. There is an opportunity to develop a credible tour operation business in collaboration with local operators.
In addition to Lesotho’s many beautiful rivers, the existing dams from Phase 1 of the LHWP, and new dams being built at Metolong and Polihali, provide notable opportunities for initiating water-based sporting and recreational activities. These dams are well suited for leisure cruise boats and extreme sporting events.
With more snow during winter than anywhere else in southern Africa, Lesotho’s ski resorts, equipment and related services present an opportunity for investment. With the success of the Mahlasela ski slopes, Kotisephola in the Mokhotlong district and Letšeng-la-Letsie have also been identified as areas for the development of skiing resorts.
One of Lesotho’s unique features is altitude. Its lowest point is 1 388 metres above sea level, and most of the country lies at over 1 500 metres. It is thus an ideal location for the development of high altitude sports training facilities. A high-class, integrated facility is envisaged that would feature, among others: outdoor and indoor sports arenas; accommodation; wellness spas and a sports treatment centre.
Lesotho also has a number of attributes which make it an idyllic health and wellness destination. These include high altitude, clean mountain air, abundance of naturally clean water, distinct seasons of the year, endemic medicinal plants, hot springs and secluded location.
The following initiatives have been identified for investment:
- Sehlabathebe National Park Mountain Kingdom Resort – Development of a facility that will incorporate majestic scenic views of the Maloti-Drakensberg mountain ranges and the area’s diverse adventure and cultural attractions.
- Sani Top Resort & Kotisephola Ski Facility – Maximising the high altitude location in close proximity to the highest mountain in Southern Africa, Sani Top and Kotisephola can be developed into resorts for skiers, golfers and adventure tourists.
- Katse Tourist Village – Already a popular tourist destination, the area is ideal for further development.
Semonkong Waterfalls Resort – Semonkong is home to the highest single-drop waterfall in the world, making the area the second most popular attraction in Lesotho for tourists seeking an extreme adventure experience.
- Bokong Chalets – Five self-contained family chalets developed by the Government are located within the Bokong Nature Reserve.
- Afriski Resort – Investment in additional accommodation and other amenities for both winter and summer activities, including hiking, pony trekking, mountain biking, river rafting and paragliding.
- Kome Caves – Development of a holiday resort, with target markets encompassing adventure groups, weddings, conferences and team building exercises due to the site’s proximity to Maseru.
- Mohale Dam Holiday Resort – Diverse investment opportunities which involve outdoor adventure activities such as paragliding, hiking and pony trekking.
- Lesotho Ski Dome – Creation of a high-calibre international leisure destination based on the Ski-Trac – a giant indoor revolving slope allowing skiers the potential for an endless ski run within a massive climatically controlled dome.