LCT gears up for 2010

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MASERU — Accommodation providers in five districts have been identified for pre-grading assessment next month, the Lesotho Council for Tourism (LCT) has said.
An independent assessor will be evaluating accommodation establishments in Maseru, Butha-Bothe, Leribe, Berea and Mafeteng from January 4-16 before grading begins the following month, according to LCT executive director, `Matiisetso Libetso.
LCT is responsible for private sector tourism development and would want to ensure local hotels, lodges and bed-and-breakfast establishments meet the required standards in order to cash-in on the 2010 Fifa World Cup to be held in South Africa.
The country is hopeful of not only hosting one of the 31 teams coming for the tournament, but some of the estimated 500 000 fans expected to descend on the region for the showpiece.
“We are trying to fast-track the grading process in order to take advantage of (2010 Fifa World Cup) opportunities in the five districts, which qualify because of their proximity to the neighbouring host city of Bloemfontein,” said Libetso, emphasising the exercise is voluntary.
But while the evaluation is not compulsory, accommodation establishments cannot afford not to be graded, if they are to be taken seriously both in the short and long term.
For the World Cup, establishments need to have, at least, a two-star rating to qualify for contracting with Match Event Services — the organisation which has been tasked with overseeing accommodation requirements for the tournament.
“The assessment is not compulsory but the grading is necessary for an establishment to have a good reputation and also, for its own marketing,” said Libetso.
She said the pre-assessment process will be based on the Lesotho grading standards, which are ‘in many ways’ similar to those applied in South Africa.
“Each country has its own grading standards and those of Lesotho are in place and can be used in this exercise,” she added.
Libetso said a consultation fee will be paid for assessment to take place, with the grading expected to start in February. 
“The main idea behind this pre-grading process is to see if establishments meet the minimum  requirements. It then gives the respective owners or managers the opportunity to make the necessary adjustments ahead of the grading process.”
Libetso said she expects a “high percentage” of establishments to register for the grading process, indicating “about 90 percent” are willing to do so. 
However, time is running out as the deadline for contracting with Match Event Services — a wholly owned South African firm — is April next year.
This means the responsible authorities — the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation — are racing against time, if they are to beat the cut-off date for official registration with the tournament organisers.
Libetso, has meanwhile, said among some of the challenges facing the industry, is lack of appropriate skills.
“We offer training to those in the hospitality industry and we would like to take the lead, in order to improve the level of service and customer-care,” Libetso.
The other challenge, she said, is lack of capital which she insists ‘hinders the development process because people are unable to expand, as much as they would have liked’.
“People need to understand tourism needs professionalism; one of our roles is to allow the industry to be administered professionally.”
Libetso says she believes unless there is a significant improvement of facilities in the country, more business will be lost to South Africa.
“There are some accommodation establishments in South Africa along the border, which use the scenery and the other attractions in Lesotho to make a lot of profit.”
“We have to approach the transport sector as well, on their role in the tournament. For us to be successful in our endeavour to benefit from the tournament, transport also has to be of the required standard.”

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