SEMONKONG – The Minister of Tourism, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, on Friday handed over a cheque worth M14 000 to the Semonkong Tourism Development Group (TDG), earmarked for community development projects.
This sum amounts to 10 percent of fees collected for entrance at the Maletsunyane Falls located in Semonkong. The TDG has been set up specifically to map out how locals can benefit from natural and historical tourist attractions in their respective areas.
Handing over the cheque, Advocate Rakuoane said although the money involved was a small amount, but what mattered was the plan behind it.
“Some of the tourism challenges should be addressed as local communities continue to receive these kind of funds,” the minister said, calling on the TDGs to be more committed to their work.
The Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) introduced the entrance fees at the ‘Maletsunyane Falls in a bid to further develop one of the country’s premier tourist resorts to attract more domestic and international visitors. The fall is one of the highest waterfalls in the world.
It attracts a steady stream of visitors who come to experience pony riding, hiking, abseiling and viewing the waterfalls. For over a century, ever since the falls became a tourist attraction, local communities have not entirely benefited from it economically.
The minister said the LTDC has raised the money from the gate takings for the past year, part of which is earmarked for the needs of the local community.
He said the LTDC will monitor the group’s use of the funds, calling on everyone to protect the new developments. Advocate Rakuoane said there is a discussion on the establishment of horseracing and gambling facilities in Semonkong.
The acting Chief Executive Officer of LTDC, Sehlabaka Ramafikeng, said tourism is vital when residents from key areas of attraction also benefit. He said this follows many years of planning after realising that Semonkong had many attractions that did not benefit its residents.
Ramafikeng said they saw it befitting to establish the TDG and signed an agreement of sharing annual gate collections to improve the livelihoods of the communities living around the tourist attraction sites.
He commended all those who ensured that the project became a success and wished for their continued support. The funds are supposed to be used for the improvement of the community’s standard of living.
The Chairman of the Semonkong Tourism Development Group, Lekhula Ntai, said since January 2020, tourists have been paying to see the waterfall, therefore creating jobs for three local people. He said both the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of understanding however, hindered their progress.
He said pricing differed from local to international tourists without disclosing figures, adding that they were encouraged by the disbursement of revenue collected at the falls gate. Ntai said in the past, people visited the falls without making any payment.
“But as things stand now, we are happy,” he said, adding however that there are numerous challenges encountered, such as bad roads leading to the falls. “We will use the money to improve access to the falls, like building stairs to the bottom of the abseil so that visitors can easily go near where the water crashes into the river.”
Other challenges he mentioned include lack of clean water and electricity in the area. “The installation of electricity will also prevent crime especially against tourists so that they can visit the falls at any time they want, even at night.”
Ntai said there are several other tourist attractions such as the Ketane Falls that also need protection so as to benefit residents. Benefit to local communities has for a long time been advocated for, as far as tourism is concerned.