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Travellers wearing masks stand in a TSA line at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, US. Picture: BLOOMBERG
Travellers wearing masks stand in a TSA line at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, US. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Entrepreneurship is tough. Let me rephrase that. It is brutal. It can wring the very heart and soul out of you, at three in the morning and the afternoon.

Not a moment goes by in a juggernaut 24-hour day when you are not fighting a fire, often with an empty extinguisher. And yet, driven by deep inner belief in the work you are doing and its purpose to do good, create jobs and make a real difference, you persevere.

The job is never done. Any entrepreneur will tell you the journey is Sisyphean: the moment you reach the top of the hill the process begins all over again. But with the help of a loving family, close friends and advisers as well as a supportive community, I don’t mind the demanding work. I relish it.

I am asked regularly if there is a secret to entrepreneurship, a magic formula. I believe part of being a successful entrepreneur is being able to spot an opportunity before others do and act on it quickly, successfully, meaningfully and profitably.

When I was a young man I saw such a chance in the cricket information space as fans globally needed a reliable platform and service to offer live, updated scores. Armed only with passion for the game, a plan and support from friends and family, I created a concept and sold it.

That was my first foray into business, and now much older, my attention has become singularly focused on the tourism space, which I believe is the secret and untapped enabler of SA economic growth, despite the roadblocks the pandemic has put in the sector’s path.

Now that global travel protocols into SA have been positively adjusted and the Covid-related state of disaster has been lifted, tourism will begin to accelerate, which positions the industry well to prepare for a bumper summer at year’s end.

From 1995 to 2017 international tourist arrivals to SA more than doubled, from about 4.5-million to more than 10-million. Over the same period tourism-related employment tripled, reaching 4.5% of total employment in 2017. This is data we should use to take encouragement from and create new targets. If we can emulate these numbers in the next few years our economy will be on a path to robust recovery.

Much will depend on the role of entrepreneurs in the tourism sector. These are the individuals who not only believe in SA’s golden future but see value and benefit in enticing international visitors to our shores, encouraging more local tourism and having the courage to back this up with investment that creates sustainable jobs.

Research shows that for every 30 new tourists to a destination one new job is created, and the industry has proportionately twice as many female employees as other sectors.

In the process of extending the well-respected Hyatt brand in SA I have been lucky enough to see dividends. In coming months it is my intention to look for more properties in “aparthotels” — part hotel room, part apartment — which are geared to medium- and longer-term residency.

There is no magic formula to entrepreneurial success in the tourism sector, but these overarching principles have and continue to hold me in good stead. I look for positives, avoid the victim mentality and refuse to concede defeat. I constantly re-evaluate the reason I participate in a project using objective facts, trying not to default to emotion.

And I am not ashamed to seek advice and guidance from mentors. My main mentor is my father, who has many more business scars than I do. Failure is also a constant companion. But to neutralise that dark passenger I remind myself constantly of my goal: try to keep my composure and not panic. When I fall I have learnt to stand up, face the fastball again and ensure I hit it hard.

• Farooqui is founder and CEO of Millat Investments.

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