Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Thapelo Msimang was one of the youngest exhibitors at the annual Africa’s Travel Indaba in Durban last week that was attended by thousands of delegates from South Africa and Africa’s travel establishments.

The 27-year-old events and conference centre manager at the Jozini Tiger Lodge was there to market his establishment. Located along the banks of Lake Jozini with views of the Lebombo Mountains, it offers luxurious accommodation and leisure activities such as fishing and game cruises.

The lodge was opened only a few years ago, thanks to a R28m grant from the Tourism Transformation Fund (TTF), a joint initiative of the department of tourism and the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) aimed at increasing the participation of black people in the tourism industry by funding and mentoring their ventures.

Jozini Tiger Lodge is jointly owned by a consortium of local communities, including women and the youth, and employs only local people, creating 28 direct jobs.

Msimang said they could not ignore the premier gathering of everything concerning tourism on the continent.

“Africa’s Travel Indaba is the biggest platform for African tourism businesses to meet global buyers of their products and services. We are hoping to meet with other partners so that we can get more people coming to our destination,” he said.

He has grown personally and professionally in the past six years he has been in the industry, Msimang said. “I started working at a B&B in Durban and when I came here I worked as a receptionist. I worked my way up and now I am the events and conference manager. I don’t think that my career would have advanced so high and so fast in any other field but tourism.

“This shows the potential of this industry and its ability to change lives. I believe that there are many opportunities for young people like myself in the industry, people who have oomph and ambition to achieve great things,” Msimang said.

Business is good

“We cater for the conferences, events and weddings. Our lodge is popular with both the international tourists as well as government officials who are booked here when they come for work in the region. Business is good,” he said.

In fact, he said business is so good that other establishments such as timeshares and B&Bs are building near Jozini Tiger Lodge due to the demand. Even locals are hiring rooms out to local and international visitors.

Moemise Motsepe, head of marketing and communications at the NEF, said Jozini Tiger Lodge is one of success stories of the TTF.

His organisation signed an agreement with the department of tourism in 2017 to establish the TTF, which “focuses exclusively on the transformation of the South African tourism sector”, he said.

Motsepe said tourism is seen as one of the cheapest and easiest ways of growing the economy and creating jobs but most people are left out of this niche sector.

The fund supports selected ventures through grant funding, debt and equity. So far this programme is working wonders because those ventures that have been supported are paying back the loans
Moemise Motsepe, head of marketing and communications at the NEF

“There is a great need to transform this sector, and the TTF is one of the measures to achieve this objective. This initiative is an indication of our commitment to ensuring that tourism plays the strategic role that it has, the potential to play in turning around the economic fortunes of the country while also creating equitable participation in the economy,” he said.

The fund has spawned more than a dozen such community-driven tourism ventures that benefited from R200m set aside for this purpose.

Motsepe said the department of tourism contributes some of the money and NEF matches this to the benefit of black-owned enterprises.

“The fund supports selected ventures through grant funding, debt and equity. So far this programme is working wonders because those ventures that have been supported are paying back the loans.”

Motsepe also mentioned the Graskop Gorge Lift Company in Mpumalanga that was supported to the tune of R40m a few years ago. This venue is popular with international tourists as it offers a unique experience.

Graskop Gorge Lift Company is centrally located on the Mpumalanga Panorama Route and has a lift that takes visitors 70m down the gorge to the forest. It is an engineering and architectural marvel, also composed of wooden walkways and suspension bridges that allow visitors to meander along the 600m trail and view fauna and flora and rare birds peculiar to the area.

Other exhibitors included Royal Thonga Safari Lodge, located near the northern KwaZulu-Natal town of Manguzi, about 35km from the Mozambican border and 70km from the border with the Kingdom of eSwatini.

This four-star lodge is at the Tembe Elephant Park and is architecturally designed to emulate the local Thonga building style. Each of the 14 villas are uniquely positioned to offer guests total privacy and luxurious comfort.

This establishment would not exist without the R9.8m injection from the Tourism Transformation Trust.

Hlengiwe Tembe, from the Tonga royal house and one of the owners and MDs of the lodge, said it has made a difference to local people’s lives as it employs more than 22 people full time and others on a casual basis during peak seasons.

Tembe said apart from trips to the Tembe Elephant Park they also take travellers on trips to Kosi Bay, where the lifestyle of the Tonga people is on display, including their agricultural practices and traditional fishing as well as local dances, traditional garb and locally brewed drinks.

 “This lifestyle is still well and kicking here. About 50% of our guests come from Europe, from such countries as the UK, France and Germany.  The Tonga people believe in traditional foods and they plant their organic vegetables. It is a generally unique lifestyle that tourists love to see,” he said.