Phindile Makwakwa is the acting chief executive of Tourism KZN. Image: Supplied.
DURBAN - A n increasing number of tourists seek unique experiences when exploring a destination, including interacting with local people. In South Africa, such unique tourist experiences can be found right across the country with township tours and homestays among the most popular. These experiences have opened up business opportunities for small, medium and micro enterprises.

It is not that the beach adventure, the hiking trail, and the Big 5 bucket list items are no longer in demand. They still are, and are now complimented by unusual experiences which can easily be provided by the growing tourism SMME businesses to fulfil the new age tourist’s niche desires.

SMMEs play an important role in tourism, offering a diverse-and often unique-range of products and services.

They are able to adapt their offerings according to market trends to ensure their businesses grow. With domestic trips declining countrywide, the time could not be more opportune to offer cost effective and diversified experiences to domestic tourists, and SMMEs are able to diversify their service offering and adapt their strategies to attract more local clientele.

The smaller players boost the tourism industry by offering affordable services, making going on holiday within easy reach for many a visitor.

As they are owner-run and managed, they provide more of a personalised experience for visitors and go the extra mile for their guests.

Ambitious SMMEs, with plenty of drive and an eye on innovation, are the engines of growth in KwaZulu-Natal and the country and are to key to creating much-needed jobs.

And the benefits of bringing more SMMEs into the market place is showing. In 2017, according to latest data from the Tourism Satellite Account for South Africa, the tourism sector created 31 752 new jobs.

This is the most number of new jobs generated by tourism within a year in at least the last eight years. This also represents the second year of employment growth after the sector saw a net loss of 12 262 jobs in 2015.

This translates into one in every 22 employed people in South Africa working in the tourism sector, totalling 722 013 individual, representing 4,5% of the 16,2 million people in South Africa’s workforce. 

SMMES have the ability to unlock economic opportunities, particularly for the previously disadvantaged, particularly women and the youth.

Tourism KZN has long realised the importance of SMMEs and runs an enterprise development programme. It realises that nurturing SMME’s will not only help them to be sustainable but will also help to deliver quality services to visitors. SMMEs add an interesting dimension to tourism products which range from bed-and-breakfast businesses, backpackers, tour guiding and tour companies, travel agents…the list is indeed endless.

Support provided by Tourism KZN to small tourism businesses include advisory services, training them on various skills, facilitating business-to-business linkages and offering access to markets platforms that see them participate at domestic and international tourism trade shows.

Many SMMEs successfully enter the annual prestigious tourism service excellence Lilizela Awards, and those who do well are hailed as “the best of the best.” 

If we want to grow tourism we must focus on small and developing businesses. They are able to give tourists authentic and personalised experiences, showcasing our country’s many hidden gems and in the process bringing a new flair and flavour to the tourism sector.

If you are yet to have an authentic township shisanyama experience, that could very well be your starting point this festive season. You are not only guaranteed a unique experience but will be contributing developing the country’s small businesses. 

Phindile Makwakwa is the acting Chief Executive Officer for Tourism KZN.

BUSINESS REPORT