SANParks has recovered from Covid-19 devastation, says CEO Hapiloe Sello

CEO of SANParks, Hapiloe Sello at the round-table hosted in Durban. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

CEO of SANParks, Hapiloe Sello at the round-table hosted in Durban. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

Published May 10, 2023


Pretoria – Newly-appointed chief executive of SANParks - the body mandated with the management of South Africa’s diverse national parks system - Hapiloe Sello said the worst devastation unleashed by Covid-19 is now a thing of the past.

Speaking to IOL in Durban, on the sidelines of the three-day travelling exhibition, the Africa’s Travel Indaba 2023, the upbeat Sello said domestic tourism has been the anchor and cornerstone which saved South Africa’s facilities.

“SANParks has recovered magnificently. We are sitting at 80% of the numbers and the volumes that we did in 2019/20 just before the pandemic.

“What I need to point out is how important a role the domestic market plays in recovery, that we do not take that for granted. As you recall, in the two years of the lockdown, sometimes the borders were open, sometimes they were closed,” she said.

CEO of SANParks, Hapiloe Sello at the round-table hosted in Durban. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

“We did not always have the opportunity to say the international tourists are going to come, but we kept seeing feet coming through our gates, and we kept seeing bums on our beds. They were coming from the domestic market. The good thing is that at SANParks we have never fully relied on the international market.

“We have always had a very strong pillar of the domestic market, and understanding that the domestic market is central to our survival. That has helped us and put us in good stead,” Sello said.

On Tuesday night, SANParks held a round-table discussion on biodiversity conservation, zooming in on South Africa’s competitive edge in tourism.

Panelists including Edgar Neluvhalani, Yolani Friedman, Oscar Mthimkhulu, Dr Howard Hendricks, Dr Sam Ferreira; and Dr Danny Govender at the SANPArks event. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

Sello said the load shedding bedevilling South Africa presents an opportunity for the tourism sector to shift faster towards renewable energy.

“We see an opportunity for us to begin to move faster into renewable energy. This is a mentality we have as South Africans, that we would rather complain about load shedding as opposed to saying – this is an opportunity for us to transition faster, and how do we that?

“I can tell you, SANParks does not sit and bemoan the impact of load shedding. It is not a topic where we sit and say load shedding is costing us. No. We say how do we now use this corner that we have been painted into, to catalyse our transition into renewable energy. How do we get the funding to do it on a massive scale,” she said.

“That is our perspective on load shedding, truly. We don’t join the masses of just bringing down the government, no. That is our bread and butter. We should be talking about the pollution, conservation and the impact on the environment. We are approaching it from that perspective.”

The soft-spoken Sello made history in March when she was announced as the first female CEO of SANParks since its establishment in 1926.

She told IOL that as “an internal appointee” she has travelled the SANParks journey for a while, a period of about eight years before she became CEO.

“People must understand that leadership does not mean that you, as an individual, are going to do things differently. For me, my approach is to engage my colleagues and say … what mistakes have we made, what can we do differently, what does the future look like?

“That should be a reflection of a learning organisation. A learning organisation says let us reflect, what have we learnt? A lot of the conversations we have had here say how do we engage communities, how do we partner with communities? I think that is the direction that biodiversity conservation sector is moving in overall,” Sello said.

She said one of her key strengths is “the ability to talk and listen, absorbing and making solid decisions that are not a product of the musings of one person”.

According to SANParks, Sello joined the body in 2015 as its managing executive for Tourism Development and Marketing and among others, acted as SANParks CEO from June to November 2022.

CEO of SANParks, Hapiloe Sello.

As the managing executive for tourism, she spearheaded the implementation of the organisation’s commercialisation strategy and implemented several tourism products, events and strategic partnerships which have helped bring in resources for the SANParks, the entity said.