Tourism entrepreneurs are resilient

“Small tourism businesses suffered a huge blow during lockdown restrictions, and it’s only now that they are slowly getting back on their feet.”

By Atlehang Ramathesele

Tourism is a major contributor to South Africa’s GDP because this sector creates jobs and showcases the country to thousands of tourists throughout the year. The tourism sector is finally on recovery mode and entrepreneurs are eager to get back on track.

Emmah Makutu and Ncebakazi Mkabane are tourism business owners that are happy their businesses survived lockdown restrictions. These two-woman entrepreneurs are ready to offer world class services to tourists.  Makatu and Mkabane have businesses rooted in creating special memories for their customers by offering tailor-made travel solutions.

Makatu’s travel company is called Destinations Direct and offers a variety of travel and hospitality services including Zwinoni Lodge which is a guest house for business and leisure travellers.

Her entrepreneurial journey started when she was hosting a friend who wanted a homely environment during a trip to Cape Town. She saw the gap in the market and started a business to create unforgettable experiences to tourists.

Mkabane’s company is called Beyond Infinity Travel and Tours, and it facilitates travel bookings as well as curated educational, adventure and cultural tour bookings.

After she graduated with a tourism diploma, Mkabane worked for a travel agency, and this is when a desire to start her own tourism business was ignited.

She didn’t have any start-up capital and she had to be resourceful by working with guesthouses to negotiate deals using accommodation vouchers. “This opened doors for us to start a business,” she said.

Competitive edge

Catering to travellers’ specific needs is important to Destinations Direct. “People prefer to have a package for a whole experience- so we don’t just offer accommodation, we also offer tours too,” said Makatu

She structures tour packages around her guests’ needs. “I don’t even have a menu, because I don’t believe in feeding guests what I think is nice, I’d prefer to give them what they like,” she said.

Destinations Direct recently established offices in Los Angeles because they are looking to capture the American market by offering authentic African experiences. One of the notable experiences she offers guests is a visit to a local farm based in the Western Cape for a farm-to-fork experience. “We serve them hard-body chicken- a unique experience they won’t forget,” she said.

Mkabane’s business Beyond Infinity Travel and Tours is focused on showcasing experiences, creating everlasting memories, and building relationships.

With a focus on vacations and tours, her company works with school groups, stokvels, government organisations and holidaymakers. Their offices are in Bloemfontein, but they operate across the country with an international client base.

Overcoming challenges

While Beyond Infinity continues to grow from strength to strength, it has not been without challenges. Mkabane mentions that cash flow can often be a challenge as well as having to rely on others for some aspects of her services.

“We currently outsource transportation, but sometimes it can be quite limiting. We are working hard on getting vehicles with more seats,” she explained.

Makatu on the other hand, struggled with human resource management. “You need to work with people who see your vision,” she emphasized.

Both entrepreneurs believe their challenges have made them stronger and helped them think out of the box. “Being a young businesswoman can be challenging- we look beyond that and maintain our integrity and believing in what we have,” said Mkabane.

The future is looking bright for these tourism entrepreneurs. “I would like to expand without compromising on quality,” said Makatu.

Mkabane is turning her attention to owning her own vehicle fleet and finding more ways to empower youth. “We would also like to create a hub for learners to learn more tourism not just hospitality,” she concluded.

About the Author:

Atlehang is a TV producer and founder of Blossom Ink Media

Thank you for reading this article. Catherine regularly writes about small business development, sustainability and circularity, and has a passion for effecting scalable impact at the ecosystem level. To receive updates, please sign up here.