07 December 2011 by Julienne du Toit

Lesotho’s Inspirational Malealea

I noticed the other day that Malealea Lodge and Pony Trek Centre in Lesotho was named as one of Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Best Value Destinations for 2012.

What memories that little piece of news brought back….

A few years ago my husband Chris and I stayed there. It’s a short drive across the border from South Africa’s town of Wepener. Malealea Lodge was and still is owned by the Jones family and they set up, quite without planning, what might really be a model for responsible tourism.

Just to explain: the very reasonable rates you pay cover your accommodation and your meals (which are delicious but nothing fancy - it’s the kind of place you’ll get a chocolate bar for dessert). As for the rest, the pony treks, the guiding around the village, the evening serenade from the local band, even the washing of your dusty car, are all optional services for which you pay community members directly.

The Joneses first came there to set up a trading store, but as more and more guests wanted to overnight there, they soon found themselves in the tourism trade. If you go on an overnight (or longer) pony trek - something that you really must try - this is the deal. Your pony trek fee goes to a local guide, who will pay the horse-owner for the hire of the steeds. Your money also goes to the village where you will stay the night. Malealea just organises it, but doesn’t skim profits or commissions.

They’ve got a great relationship with the villagers around them. And when you go on an outride, you’ll be struck when you return how much more prosperous Malealea village is than most of the other settlements you’ll see. Here there are trees, here people live in contentment, here they have opportunities for upliftment.

The local school has benefited from overseas visitors leaving gifts. Crafters have sprung up, and so have adult literacy groups. An ecological restoration project where a local man turned an erosion donga into a treed oasis has become a local attraction.

The secret is in the open-heartedness of the Jones family. They feel wealthy and sleep in peace because their neighbours also prosper. Tourism has made a massive and positive difference to these people. Isn’t that the way all tourism should be?

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