Adventure travel and sustainable tourism development in Lesotho : the case of pony trekking.
Tourism in Lesotho reached a peak in the mid-1970's, based upon the opening of modern hotels and casinos in Maseru and the attraction of gambling. This was an activity which was not then available in the neighbouring country of the Republic of South Africa. Casinos became Lesotho's dominant tourist product. The legalising of gambling in South Africa increased competition in the casino market and Lesotho could therefore no longer capitalise on casinos. Furthermore, the casinos in the country were externally owned and controlled. This form of tourism was therefore not economically viable for the greater proportion of the host population because most of the revenue generated drained back to parent countries. As a result, the strategy for tourism development shifted to the development of natural environment, landscape and outdoor pursuits such as pony trekking. Pony trekking became popular in the late 1970's and has since become one of the most important tourist products of the country. In the 1980's community pony trekking associations were established. These pony trekking initiatives were identified as one development option that could provide economic opportunities for rural communities where few other opportunities exist. The purpose of this study is to examine whether pony trekking initiatives in Lesotho can yield maximum possible economic, social and environmental benefits for the present and future host communities. While investigating its potential to meet the needs of host communities for improved living standards, it also examines whether this tourist product satisfies the demands and expectations of visitors. The field work described in this dissertation was carried out in three pony trekking centres, namely: the government owned Basotho Pony Trekking Centre located at Molimo-Nthuse in the Maseru district; the privately owned Malealea Pony Trekking Centre at Malealea in the Mafeteng district; and the community owned- Khohlonts'o Pony Trekking Centre at III Bokong in the Thaba-Tseka district. This study has revealed that pony trekking activities provide substantial socio- economic opportunities for local communities along the trek routes and around the trekking centres, from the renting of overnight facilities and horses, the production and selling of crafts and tour guiding by local people. Furthermore, the majority of members of pony trekking associations surveyed revealed high support for the activity due to the economic benefits. It was also found that the demands of the majority of visitors are being met. They were satisfied with the facilities and services offered in these centres and regarded public reception as being good. Though pony trekking contributes to social upliftment of the host communities, it is found, however, that there are major drawbacks. The survey indicates that at present limited number of people are involved or participate in pony trekking associations. Not only that, but even communities that are directly involved in pony trekking associations do not have control of such initiatives. Further, the survey shows that there is insufficient community capacity building and lack of government involvement in funding in the investment in infrastructure. Finally, the potential to attract more visitors remains relatively untapped due to a lack of proper marketing strategies; a lack of integrated marketing efforts in promotional campaigns; and weak advertising of the product between the public and private sectors. On the basis of these findings suggestions are made for further improvement. These include, firstly, a need to launch education and awareness programmes on the important role that tourism can play in socio-economic development of the communities. Secondly, more opportunities for the local population and new areas for pony trekking development should be opened. Finally, stronger support, from both the government and private firms for the tourist industry is needed.