Transforming South Africa’s travel and tourism industry from the grassroots

Jerry Mabena

Chief Executive Officer at Thebe Tourism Group

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When you take the time to understand an issue, the solution you come up with is generally a win-win for all constituents. Thus, when Amadeus decided to form a government-industry alliance that would develop enterprise-building projects in response to the real needs of South Africa’s travel and tourism industry, we grasped the opportunity to be part of the initiative.

A key and basic part of this initiative was to understand what skill gaps exist in the industry and look for ways to fill those gaps by providing gainful employment to the under-served communities of rural South Africa.

At the end of last year, Amadeus and South Africa’s Department of Tourism along with key stakeholders from the industry, including our group, announced the formation of a distinctive Travel and Tourism Excellence Academy. A programme with a goal to bridge the gap between what mainstream academia offers and what businesses require. The Academy would provide businesses in the travel and tourism industry in South Africa with skilled professionals in areas responding directly to the needs of industry and support a transformation from the grassroots.

Four months into the setup, the first groups of demand-led training are successfully underway. The key point to highlight here is that the group of 85 young women and men currently receiving training through the academy will walk into jobs when they complete the course. The work opportunity has been identified and pre-agreed upon with the business that will absorb them. Thus, the academy is wholly invested in securing training and work for the successful candidates – training is not happening just for the sake of it. The academy is also focused on integrating communities that typically live on the doorstep of tourist spots who, either because of lack of opportunity or professional skills training, miss out on the commercial success of such ventures.

A case in point is our new hotel in Skukuza, in Kruger National Park and close to some of the world’s most celebrated safari businesses. We needed young people trained in the hospitality department. A first group of 25 young women from surrounding rural communities were selected for training in a hospitality programme that will equip them for the new jobs we need filled. Over a year, the candidates will receive a combination of theoretical learning, computer training and activities that simulate the real work environment.

With Amadeus funding the training of these young tourism practitioners as part of its obligation with the National Industrial Participation Program in South Africa, helping to implement the programme is project management company, Economic Development Solutions. What’s more, to ensure the unique needs of the rural-based learners are met and that quality and certified standards are delivered, non-profit Good Work Foundation is running the carefully crafted training programme at its Hazyview Digital Campus, in partnership with the South Africa College of Tourism that will ensure recognised certification for the successful candidates.

The group just completed its first practical session in a hotel environment and for many of them it was a first-time experience on handling departments such as customer care and workplace communication, and telephone and computer skills. For us, it is satisfying to see the first proof-of-concept of a novel idea wherein the industry collaborates to fill critical skills gaps, while helping to reduce unemployment among rural South African youths in an inclusive way.


Diversity, Africa, Social Responsibility, Guest Post, Industry Relations