….lack of accommodation is a major hurdle for the tourism industry
By Bahle Gama
The country does not have enough beds to accommodate tourists that continue visiting Eswatini. This is a general observation, following the closure of the Ezulwini-located Sun International Hotels, comprising the Royal Swazi Sun, Ezulwini Sun and Lugogo Sun, a few years ago.
Major tourism industry players who opted to comment on condition of anonymity said their continued efforts to market the Kingdom were yielding fruits but they were being let down by the inadequate number of available beds.
They said following the launch of Eswatini Air, which is expected to attract more tourists to the country. Also, the industry’s busy calendar has been considered and the upcoming Bushfire Festival was used as an example.
“We are very thankful that we now have our own airline which will open doors for more tourists, but the question remains where are they going to sleep,” said one of the interviewees.
This sentiment was shared by all interviewed persons, who stated that the country’s hospitality industry had been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in a snail pace in recovery.
“We need to be realistic about how the pandemic affected us, which has birthed other illegal accommodation places, people turned rooms into B&Bs, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that, but the question becomes, to what standard are those places in and who assess and re-evaluates them?”
Another cited that the country has about 3 500 beds and half of those are at the Sun International property.
“So, you see how much of a loss the country is making because Royal Swazi and Lugogo continue to be non-operational. Look at the number of beds in there that could be used by these people who will be coming to the country for Bushfire alone, putting aside the other activities, let’s talk about this fast-approaching international event.”
The industry players expressed their concerns over the limited accommodation in the country, stating that “tourists only know of these big hotels which are currently non-operational, so when changing house or going for other options, it should be something almost similar or at the very least to the same level as what they were expecting.”
On May 16 during an event with tour guides from different parts of the world, Eswatini Tourism Authority CEO Linda Nxumalo gave assurance that tourists coming to the country would be accommodated fully.
She was responding to a question from journalists on the matter, in which she stated that accommodation would not be an issue for tourists, especially those that will be attending the Bushfire Festival.
“We are quite pleased that during the pandemic several people invested in tourism. We have seen the mushrooming of new properties in the likes of lodges, guest houses, and bread and breakfast. We have also unveiled some new cultural villages and other activities that actually support and anchor tourism,” said Nxumalo.
She stated that they were very much ready to receive tourists and would further strengthen their ties with stakeholders, and event organizers to ensure that the experience of tourists is seamless in the country.
When asked about their thoughts on the ETA CEO’s comments, the industry players interviewed stated that they were not disputing what she had said, however, it remained that the country was not entirely ready.
“As I said, we now have eSwatini Air, which will make it very simple for tourists to travel into the country for shorter hours compared to driving, now imagine a situation like a Bushfire and all the other big events the country has when the numbers grow what will happen to the number of beds? Meanwhile, we have some beds locked in at Royal Swazi and Lugogo.”
The statement was echoed by another who cited the Umhlanga Reed Dance Ceremony which normally takes place around August of every year, which they said remained one of the most sought-after events globally.
“We should also take note of the fact that people also want to sleep where it’s closer to the event they are attending. Most importantly, the place they are being accommodated in, even if it’s self-catering, it should meet a certain standard, which will not compromise the tourism industry in the country. We are trying to keep these people in the country for as long as it takes, our economy needs it.”
One of the main things these industry players agreed with was the need to re-assess the accommodation places countrywide to ensure that they “do not scare tourists away from the country.”
“We need good reviews and for the industry to grow, the economy depends on it as well.”