MEET 3 WOMEN MAKING THEIR MARK ON SOUTH AFRICAN TOURISM

5 -min. read

Thursday 9 August 1956 was a tumultuous day in South Africa. In the capital, Pretoria, more than 20,000 women marched to the Union Buildings, office of the President, to protest against legislation requiring black South Africans to carry a government-issued ‘pass’, restricting their movement and right to live and work where they pleased. It was a bold, brave move against the apartheid government.

The day has since been a declared public holiday – Women’s Day – in South Africa. To commemorate it this year, we spoke to three dynamic women making their mark on South Africa’s tourism industry.


1. Nicola Harris

Nicola Harris
Nicola Harris – courtesy of Nedbank Tour de Tuli

Nicola is the director of the Nedbank Tour de Tuli. Over the past 13 years, this annual multi-day mountain bike event has raised more than R18 million for the charity Children in the Wilderness (CITW), enabling more than 16,000 children to discover the magic of Africa’s wilderness areas.

“That’s the beauty of the Tour de Tuli: It has an unbelievable ability to bring people together into the community”

Since you joined the Tour de Tuli 10 years ago, how has the Tour changed?

It’s changed enormously. While securing access with landowners and government was quite chaotic in the early years, nowadays there’s a lot more planning and logistics that goes into the event.

We also rely completely on volunteers, and over the years, people now know what they’re doing and what’s expected. We’ve managed to build up the right people over the years.

What are the stats for this year’s event?

We’ll have 320 riders in groups of 10-17 per group. That includes leaders and hosts for each group. All our hosts have a wildlife background so they can bring more of the touring aspect to the event.

Then, we have around 80 volunteers and more staff working on the event in the background.

That’s the beauty of the Tour de Tuli: It has an unbelievable ability to bring people together into the community.

It seems like a fun event, but it’s all actually for a good cause?

It’s all in aid of CITW, and we raise around R2.4 million each year. We try and obtain as much sponsorship as possible to cover our overhead costs. Nedbank have been the title sponsor for the past three years.

Our long-term goal is raising funds for CITW, but we also want to see communities to benefit. This year we provided seeds to the local Shashe community, allowing us to purchase a lot of the fresh produce we need for the event directly from them.

The Tour de Tuli website describes you as a ‘no-nonsense blonde’… is that true?

(laughs) I have been called a dragon once or twice. I’m really just an honest, direct person. I’m driven. Tenacity is in my blood!


2. Patricia Makumu

Patricia Makumu – courtesy of andBeyond
Patricia Makumu – courtesy of andBeyond

Patricia grew up in the Mpumalanga village of Justicia, just a few kilometres from the fences of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. After joining andBeyond in 2006 she worked her way up the ladder: from housekeeping, to working at the reception, to management. She hasn’t stopped yet – and when the brand-new andBeyond Tengile River Lodge opens its doors in December, Patricia will be there to welcome them as lodge manager.

“I always ensure that guests feel welcome by greeting them with a smile; remembering their names; and treating them in a warm, friendly and generous way”

How have you seen women’s role change since you joined the hospitality industry?

I have been in the hospitality industry for 18 years. When I started at Exeter in 1999, there were only two women at management level. Now, at andBeyond Kirkman’s Camp there are more women than men.

Have any remarkable women inspired you along the way?

Yes, Minah Mkansi. I met her at Exeter in 1999 when I was a temp in housekeeping for three months. After two months I wanted to quit because I wanted to study [to be a] social worker. She encouraged me to stay; she mentored me.

What’s the one thing you strive for when hosting guests?

I always ensure that guests feel welcome by greeting them with a smile; remembering their names; and treating them in a warm, friendly and generous way. [I want to] deliver an extraordinary guest experience.

What are you most excited about for your new role as Lodge Manager at andBeyond Tengile River Lodge?

It will be a new lodge… I was there when they laid the first brick. Watching it until it’s completed, being involved in the life of the lodge, being there when the lodge opens, and being involved in training the staff.


3. Suzanne Bayly-Coupe

Suzanne is the owner of Classic Portfolio, a collection of owner-operated camps and lodges across Africa and the Indian Ocean. She had a career as a diplomat in mind when she completed her degree in International Politics & Economics, but soon fell in love with the travel industry. In 1999 she became the owner of Classic Portfolio, which, this year, celebrates 25 years in business.

Suzanne Bayly-Coupe – courtesy of Classic Portfolio
Suzanne Bayly-Coupe – courtesy of Classic Portfolio

“I believe women bring a completely different approach to business: we go in much slower, and have a more strategic way of looking at the issue, and coming up with a solution”

All 19 Classic Portfolio employees are women… Was this a conscious decision?

It wasn’t a conscious choice to start off with, but it has become one. Women see things in such a different way. We nurture our clients, and there’s a unique way women analyse information. I believe women bring a completely different approach to business: we go in much slower, and have a more strategic way of looking at the issue, and coming up with a solution.

What’s the guiding principle behind members of the Classic Portfolio?

We look for three things: it has to be privately owned; it has to offer a unique experience; and it has to be completely committed to making a difference in both conservation and communities within the area.

Is that type of conscientious, sustainable tourism the future of luxury travel?

Absolutely. I just love the transformative power travel can hold for people. But I also think there’s a massive gap amongst both agents and travellers in understanding their responsibilities when travelling to far-flung lodges in Africa. The commitment required to keep some properties going is enormous, and we want to make clients aware of that.

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Richard Holmes
Richard Holmes is a freelance travel, food and lifestyle writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. His work on African and international destinations has appeared in a wide range of consumer publications both in South Africa and abroad.

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