Phindile Makwakwa, the acting chief executive of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal, believes that BRICS could play an important role for the province’s tourism expansion.
The woman at the helm of KwaZulu-Natal’s burgeoning tourism industry says the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) countries play a key role in growing the number of foreign tourists who visit the province.

Phindile Makwakwa, the acting chief executive of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal (TKZN), said in future China and India in particular will play key roles in the organisation’s efforts to lure more foreign visitors to our shores. Makwakwa said these two countries had fast-growing markets and given that South Africa already had several agreements in place with them - because of BRICS - it made sense to build on the ties which already existed.

“In 2016 alone, more than 140million Chinese travelled globally with an impressive 22 million Indian tourists travelling during the same period,” said Makwakwa.

Last month, South Africa hosted the 10th BRICS summit. Several major investment agreements were signed, with billions expected to flow between the countries. The BRICS Business Council was in KwaZulu-Natal, where it presented an opportunity to showcase the province.

However, Makwakwa’s vision extends beyond BRICS as she also looks to building the visitor base coming from Europe and North America as well.

She said with more airlines flying directly into KZN it would be easier and quicker for visitors to enter the province than before - especially those with time constraints or people who did not like long stopovers.

In October, British Airways will have direct flights between London’s Heathrow Airport and and Durban’s King Shaka International Airport.

“The more we grow our market, the more emerging tourism entrepreneurs, especially black women, stand to benefit. There are many exciting initiatives in the pipeline. We have a wide range of tourism products that suit a number of varied interests and budgets,” she said.

“We believe this is our unique selling point - not only for the domestic market but for the international market as well,” she said.

Makwakwa is passionate about ensuring that during her tenure new entrants in the field are given the support and guidance needed to make their mark. Since the start, she has championed the issue of gender transformation in the industry.

Before taking up her present position, Makwakwa held several other prominent roles in government which gave her the insight required for her current role.

This was in the Department of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, and the Office of the Premier, KwaZulu-Natal. Earlier this year, the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) stated that tourism was one of the sectors which employed the highest number of women and could therefore contribute to gender equality.

It said directly and indirectly tourism currently accounted for 10% of the world’s jobs and GDP while 49% of employees in hotels and restaurants in the world were women.

Makwakwa said she wanted to ensure that KZN Tourism helped unlock women’s potential and change their lives, as this would have a knock-on effect on their families and communities.

“We want to see the tourism sector grow and become an even bigger contributor to the country’s economy. We believe we can achieve this with more women entrepreneurs at the helm,” Makwakwa said.

TKZN has its own Enterprise Development and Incubation Programme, particularly for empowering SMMEs, and women are some of the benefactors. The programme is a hybrid business incubator model, comprising both physical and virtual incubation support.

Women are an integral feature of the programme, to help them and their establishments to get off the ground and thereby playing an important role in helping to transform the province’s tourism sector.

Makwakwa said TKZN believed that the rate of transformation in the tourism industry must accelerate to allow for more mainstream black-owned businesses of all sizes to be established.

“We have revamped and enhanced the SMME incubation programme - not only so that more emerging tourism entrepreneurs are assisted, but also to ensure that their businesses enjoy sustainable development and growth,” she said.

The programme continues to focus on leisure tourism SMMEs that operate as tour operators, travel agents and accommodation establishments, and its enhanced strategy is aimed directly at helping these emerging businesses survive during the start-up phase, the stage at which they are most vulnerable.

“These are small steps to the bigger picture. Our ultimate goal is to see more females in top management in the sector, and owning businesses. I believe they can play a pivotal role in growing the sector and its contribution to the world economy,” Makwakwa said.