By: Mpho Shelile 

The Women of Value Lesotho, under the auspices of the Women in Tourism Lesotho Association (WITLA) together with the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC), are hosting the 2nd Annual Women in Tourism Southern Africa Summit and Exhibition in Maseru Lesotho on the 27-29 November.  

This is happening at the Manthabiseng Convention Centre where attendees include women in business, local and international buyers, exhibitors, ministers of tourism, the ambassador of Tanzania, tourism board directors, UNWTO Africa chairperson, CEO of acute Global Botswana, corporate executives and managers, funding institutions managers and other professionals from across the sub-region who are passionate about sharing, learning, challenging and forging strategic partnerships and contribute to the economic growth, especially in the tourism sector. 

Basotho entrepreneurs and exhibitors took this opportunity to display and effectively showcase the rich cultural heritage, natural beauty, and entrepreneurial spirit and created memorable experiences for attendees.

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The SADC has engendered women’s empowerment and gender equality across sectors at regional and national levels, and in 2019 adopted a Regional Multi-Dimensional Women’s Economic Empowerment Program aimed at promoting women’s economic empowerment and gender-responsive development

The president of WITLA Mrs. Matšeliso Mokuoane in her remarks specified that by bringing together key stakeholders, sharing knowledge, and fostering collaboration, the conference aims to create a roadmap for a more inclusive, diverse, and prosperous tourism sector where women can thrive. “The event will ensure that it uplifts Basotho women by giving them a platform to promote and transact their business, expose them to available business opportunities that they can utilize.”

In his remarks, Hon. Prime Minister Samuel Ntsokoane Matekane indicated that the summit and Expo 2023, have brought together private and public sector players as well as the tourism industry trailblazers in the region, to advocate for women empowerment in the tourism sector and to champion them into the Tourism Value Chain and industry. “I am aware that this is going to be a platform to share information, inspire women in tourism, and hunt for opportunities to establish business partnerships, and investments and share the markets. “Ladies and gentlemen Lesotho has committed through the signing of the 2030 Agenda on sustainable development goals. This endeavor underpinned is by the goal of achieving gender equality and empowerment of women in Lesotho. In the NSDP II, the Government of Lesotho aims to promote gender equality through interventions that will contribute to improving equality, job creation, and inclusive growth”

Seeing the potential of this sector, the Government of Lesotho has identified Tourism as one of the four economic growth sectors, this therefore gives me the courage that our country is on the right track to empower women through advancing this sector to attract more guests into the country. Lesotho like many countries has recognized the importance of tourism in growing the economy and I am informed that in Lesotho, like many countries, the tourism and hospitality sector is driven by women, and I am certain that this event is one of those interventions that is going to empower these great leaders in the sector.

Hon. Matekane stressed that in Lesotho, 56% of the tourism sector enterprises are owned and led by women. This says that promoting this sector in this way is an effective way of providing access to economic empowerment opportunities for women, youth, and the rest of underprivileged community members because it is in the women’s second nature to care, share, and empower each other. “This is what Lesotho’s tourism sector needs at this point as we desire to see economic growth and employment creation. The role of women in the tourism industry, as well as their invaluable contribution to the economy at large, and their leadership potential cannot be over-emphasized.”

Hon. Matekane therefore concluded by urging all to take home a good package of information on lessons, business contacts, and a new vision of where Lesotho must be in the next 5 years. “As I conclude, allow me to challenge you to remember that tourism is both local and international, I would like to see the resuscitation of local value chains like ‘home stays’ which are affordable and inclusive of our locals and which have a potential of economic benefit to our traditional tourism practitioners as well as a cultural interchange for the benefit of our tourists. Basotho are known for their hospitality and welcoming nature, let us help them turn that into revenue generation”

Speech from the Minister of Tourism Sports, Arts and Culture, Hon. Motlatsi Maqalepo, indicated that Lesotho’s tourism sector itself has been classified as young and on the rebound with steep growth after the COVID-19 Pandemic. Lesotho’s statistics show that most enterprises are small and medium according to international standards. “Our sectorial players are still limited in skills and exposure hence the need for more skills training and networking. Though the number of tourism service providers is increasing, most of them are located in the urban areas with 56% found in the Maseru district.

He further stated that in all the tourism sub-sectors, women are persistent. Basotho women have immersed themselves in taking advantage of the opportunities in the sector, participating in the sub-sectors such as tourism enterprises, tour operators, and tour guides in events. “We continue to see them going forth in leaps and bounds as more enterprises emerge and grow. I’m aware that regionally, women are fully participating in the tourism sector, evidence is this International Summit we are attending. It calls for a round of applause. Noteworthy, our private sector has proven its capability to host conferences and events that attract participants beyond our borders who will bring us dollars.”

Women in Tourism Southern Africa (WITSA) chairperson, Dr. Dimakatso Malwela indicated that WITSA aims to champion women in the Tourism industry and value chain. She can attest to it that when women are given a task to perform, they perfect it because they have so much passion, “we do not want to leave any stone unturned here, and we want to be able to collaborate after this. We believe in eco-system as women we believe in working together for better out-put”

The CEO of LTDC Mr. Molupe Pheko stated that their mandate as LTDC is to assist private sectors and businesses to develop their products, and also teach them how to write their products, and assist them with getting funding from either banks or any other stakeholders. “We promise to keep on supporting women in tourism, and we also assist them with marketing their products” he concluded by stating that they will be walking this journey together with WITLA and preparing them to thrive in the future.