A unique Kingdom set within a large nation; Lesotho is a high-altitude land of exploration for eager adventurers.
Between 1820 and 1823, King Moshoeshoe I, son of a minor chief from the Bakoteli lineage, took his people and settled the Butha-Buthe Mountain. Moshoeshoe allied with former adversaries in the face of the growing threat of South African King Shaka Zulu, and the Lifaqane (also known as Mfecane or Difaqane) – a period of widespread chaos and warfare between communities that arose in the wake of his aggressive expansion.
Now, nestled in a high-altitude region of South Africa, the land-locked independent Kingdom of Lesotho is a hidden gem in the vast nation that surrounds it.
As a country elevated at 1,000 metres (3,281 feet), Lesotho differs from its lateral African counterparts by its cooler climate, subject to snowy winters in its lowlands, to dramatic summer storms that see the most rainfall per area in the whole of Africa.
Marked by its lush grasslands, alpine meadows, jagged hills, and winding river networks, Lesotho remains a country largely untouched by development, and a prime location for exploratory hiking, camping, cave visits, horseback trekking, and even snow sports during the colder seasons. And for those excited at the prospect of African wildlife, the country boasts a variety of exotic birds, reptiles, and mammal species endemic to the region.
TOURISM INSIGHTS: LESOTHO TOURISM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION
Through the variation of locations and activities, Lesotho has become a unique and exotic place to visit, and because of this, the tourism industry is essential to the Kingdom.
The National Development Strategic Plan (NDSP II) has identified the industry as one of the four pillars that drive the economic growth of the country, and the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) is focused on reviving the sector in the wake of 2020.
LTDC is a parastatal organisation established in 2002, and its mandate is to develop and promote tourism in Lesotho. It is designed to provide leadership in the development of a strong and vibrant tourism industry which contributes to sustainable economic growth, job creation, poverty alleviation, and protection of the natural and cultural environment through effective partnership with the private sector and the community in strategic marketing, research, product development, quality tourism and hospitality services delivery and human resource development. Thus, its vision is to lead in successfully positioning Lesotho as Southern Africa’s must-visit mountain, culture, and adventure, and ecotourism destination.
We spoke to Sehlabaka Ramafikeng, interim CEO of the company, about the prospects of attracting more tourists to the Kingdom.
Q&A WITH SEHLABAKA RAMAFIKENG, CEO, LTDC
How do you market Lesotho as a destination?
Sehlabaka Ramafikeng (SR): LTDC is currently marketing and promoting tourism in Lesotho through digital marketing platforms such as our state-of-the-art website www.visitlesotho.travel. This showcases all the Lesotho Tourism’s magnificent and breathtaking products, places to visit, where to stay, attractions, historic sites, culture and heritage, tourism investment opportunities, tour operators, accommodation, and all essential tourism information.
This tourism portal is linked to social media platforms that are being updated on a daily basis to interact with the audiences, such as daily tourism related activities posted on the company’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages, and a newly developed Lesotho Tourism Guider Mobile App.
Due to hugely negative impact of COVID-19 pandemic to world travel patterns, the Kingdom of Lesotho has also suffered negatively like all other countries. Promotional efforts had to be implemented to continue create awareness and market Lesotho as a unique tourism destination locally by way of various platforms. The objectives are to showcase and educate the locals about tourism offerings in the country, to travel within the country and know more about places of interests but most importantly to spend money at those places of interests to uplift lives of the communities.
Through the joint marketing efforts and strategic partnership with a neighbouring South Africa, the Kingdom of Lesotho is a member of the Maluti Drakensberg Route (MDR) whose objectives is to jointly market and promotes the tourism products that are along the traverse route which go through Lesotho and South African provinces namely Eastern Free State, KwaZulu Natal and Eastern Cape Highlands.
What are your organisation’s current goals?
(SR): With the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, generally what is seems sure is that tourism in different country across the globe will rebound slowly and mainly through local travel. This is because travellers tend to venture out closer to home and travel locally in order to gain confidence to travel farther away from home countries.
In our view, reopening and rebuilding tourism in this beautiful Kingdom in the sky calls for a joined-up approach. Thus, LTDC’s current goals include working together with businesses, government ministries and agencies to perfect and apply new health protocols for safe travel as well as to solicit support in whichever manner possible. By this we are aiming to restore travellers’ confidence as well as to stimulate demand for travel through our tourism promotion campaigns on social media.
Further, we are also leveraging on this crisis that has been brought by the pandemic to focus on comprehensive tourism recovery plans which this time around encourages more innovation and investment in preparation for when the sector is fully open, up and running, simply put, we are busy rethinking tourism in Lesotho because we believe whatever we do today will shape the future of tourism in our country.
How do you promote off-season travel?
(SR): The corporation always ensure important element of strategic partnerships with the tourism private sector namely tour operators and events promoters. A rainy season which starts from October to the end of March, is a period where the country is green, has magnificent mountain scenery and filled man-made dams as the Kingdom of Lesotho has an abundance of water. There are lots of tourism related events which are promoted through social media platforms, billboards advertising, radio adverting and print advertising. The most attended activities during off-season period include motorcycling race (world renowned Roof of Africa Rally), hiking, abseiling, water sports, music festivals.
Are there any projects in the pipeline you wish to highlight?
(SR): Semonkong Visitor Comfort Facility.
The Corporation is currently constructing the state-of-the-art tourism facility which is being developed with a view to establish a meeting place for the tour operators and tourists together with the tour guides and the Semonkong community. This is the platform for the host community to create income making opportunities as thus enhance their livelihoods whilst the tourists experience is improved. This magnificent, breathtaking facility is overlooking at the Maletsunyane Falls which is the highest single drop waterfall in Southern Africa (192 metres) and it is also the highest commercial abseiling cliff in the world (206 metres).
Why, in your opinion, should somebody visit Lesotho?
(SR): Lesotho is a true African country, but there are some things which elevate it – literally – above many others. Its lowest point is 305 metres, the highest on the continent, and it also has the highest average height of any country in the world. Not surprising then that it also has the highest commercial abseil (in excess of 300 metres), the highest pub in Africa and the highest single drop waterfall in Southern Africa.
As one moves towards the southern and eastern sides, Lesotho becomes more and more beautiful. The country is generally clean, once away from the towns, and the sky stretches away forever with the most beautiful clouds reaching up to incredible heights, casting showers in the far distance. Little streams cascade down mountainsides, and rivers wind around foothills and mountains, forming fantastic gorges to marvel at. Spectacular sunsets are the order of the day as one often looks down on the clouds. Apart from the stunning scenery, and challenging off-roading, it is a pleasure to see how contour farming is the norm throughout Lesotho.
What a great country Lesotho is for tourism. We have reason to be proud inhabitants of this land not only because it draws its tourism appeal from the beauty of its physical landscape. Our pride derives also from the fact that the appeal of this country as a tourism destination comes as much from its physical beauty as it does from the people. Our friendliness, humility and general hospitality make us a refreshing compliment to the beautiful landscape of our country.
What are some of the country’s most unique landmarks?
· It is the only country in the world whose territory lies 1,500 metres above sea level.
· The Katse Dam wall stands 185 metres, making it one of the tallest man-made structures in the continent of Africa and highest dam in Africa.
· Lesotho has the longest and the highest bridge in the Southern hemisphere.
· The country is aptly dubbed the ‘Roof of Africa’ and the ‘edge of the world’ because of its altitude.
· It is home to the world’s highest pub at the Sani Top Chalet (2874 metres above sea level).
· Thabana Ntlenyana is the highest peak in Southern Africa (3482 metres).
· Lesotho is the highest lowest point in the world in terms of altitude.
· The Maletsunyane Falls is the highest single drop waterfall in Southern Africa (192 metres).
· It is also the highest commercial abseiling cliff in the world (206 metres).
· Lesotho’s monarchy is the highlight of our culture and a major draw card. Being one the last three monarchs in the world to-day, this by itself is an attraction that if properly packaged and marketed can generate enormous interest from innovative entrepreneurs.
· Afriski Mountain Resort is an ‘all year, all mountain’ destination in the heart of the Drakensberg- Maluti Mountains, in Lesotho. It is one of two ski resorts in Southern Africa and attracts ten thousand visitors over the winter season each year. The highest Ski Resort in Africa.
Are you optimistic about the future of the tourism industry of Lesotho?
(SR): The reality is that tourism has been hard hit by this pandemic and when it restarts, it will be under new operating procedure and protocols, including different travel restrictions that will be or are already being applied by many countries, which will most probably influence travellers’ behaviour and decisions. As the industry starts to reopen, we might note shorter booking windows and less spends and more but it is not all doom and gloom because with the current work on rebuilding tourism in Lesotho, which includes getting the stakeholders to understand what has changed and what will be the best direction for the industry to grow even better, we are optimistic that soon enough, tourism in Lesotho will regain its position or become even better, through new found appreciation from the world.
For a high-class experience close to the city centre…
For gourmet meals in a quirky environment…
If you fancy high-end international dishes…
For a hotel with activities and nearby sports…
A traditional stay with the outdoors at your fingertips…
A place that borders exotic wilderness…
The Palace Hotel is a prime stay based in the country less than an hour drive from the capital Maseru. Sporting a tranquil pool and a stunning surrounding landscape, the Palace Hotel is a place of leisure, and provides the opportunity for exploration. The hotel’s fine dining experience allows visitors to indulge in a variety of dishes, and its open-plan courtyard provides a social and friendly environment when relaxing beside the pool or in the sunny gardens.
For those who love walks…
If you love culture and history…
A chance for skiing and other wintery activities…
192 metres of waterfall standing near the town of Semonkong, Maletsunyane Falls is a must-see for visitors of the region. Carved into the cliff beside two vivid green hills, the waterfall is a breath-taking sight to behold, and its dramatic echoing sound has given rise to local folklore that lives to this day.
Sitting in the district of Berea, the Kome Caves are a national heritage site in Lesotho, and home to the descendants of those who originally made the caves. The dwellings mix classic living methods with that of modern and provide visitors with an excellent insight into the traditional community that make the caves their home.
The Lion Rock Mountain
The perfect stop during a journey out of Maseru. The Lion Rock Mountain is a lone peak that has retained its wilderness within the borders of the capital, set aside from development in nearby areas. The summit sports a great stone formation from which the rise gets its name and is a brilliant landmark to visit while on the road between the locations.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Lesotho is home to a variety of airfields all around the mountainous country. Its primary airport is Moshoeshoe I International Airport just outside of the capital Maseru.
For journeys across the country, taxis are available and well-placed for short journeys outside a timetable, as well as a range of bus services that routinely journey to popular tourist destinations. Alternatively, for a more custom travelling experience visitors can rent cars from the capital and make their way to the various and unique locations Lesotho has to offer.