Africa’s Trade Indaba, held at the Albert Luthuli Convention Centre in Durban, has placed the spotlight firmly on women in the tourism sector with sessions on women’s empowerment and another on including women and youth in getting market access.
Deputy Tourism Minister, Fish Mahlalela got the ball rolling with a pronouncement that the government was serious about women’s empowerment in the sector, saying, “We have set a target of spending 40% of our budget on procuring goods and services from SMMEs, as part of the department’s transformation agenda, including women-owned businesses.”
“What keeps women out of the C suite management?” That was the essence of a session dubbed ‘Spotlight on Women Empowerment. The lack of women entering the intricate tourism spaces, such as transport and logistics, was also raised.
From the panellists, the sentiment was that empowerment is anchored on putting individuals at the centre whilst providing them with an enabling environment.
Lynette Ntuli, CEO of Innate Investment Solutions, Moderator of the panel discussion, noted, “Over the last 15 years, concerted efforts have been made by all stakeholders to accelerate empowerment.”
But though the glass ceiling had been broken to some extent, she said the transformation “hasn’t happened to the scale we’d want,” adding that although women were involved in tourism, there were too few who ventured into the more technical aspects of tourism such as travel and aviation.
Ntuli raised issues of women struggling to get their products to the market, the digital divide in Africa, and the lack of infrastructure, such as electricity and space, as some of the barriers to women’s ability to advance.
Hon. Philda Nani Kereng, Minister of Environment and Tourism, Botswana, said government policy played an important role in empowering women in the sector: “I want to share (through) national policy how the government can embrace and develop the particular strengths of women.” She argued that women have the resilience and the capacity to develop sustainable tourism, but these need to be nurtured through funding and training.
Mimi Kalinda, Group CEO of Africa Communications Media Group, South Africa, wondered why we targeted foreigners when “there is the whole continent? We think globally, but other (African) people are interested in tourism.”
She also spoke out against the lack of media spotlight and marketing of women in the sector and urged women to showcase themselves: “We don’t tell our stories enough. As a woman, you found a particular challenge to enter this sphere.”
Kalinda advised women entrepreneurs to ask themselves: “Who do you do what you do for? Understand who you are? How do we do communications and marketing, who are we solving problems for? We have to tell our governments.”
She made a call to action to women in the media to promote women in tourism by helping “women in telling the story to other women who are trying to break barriers.”
Lindiwe Rakharebe, CEO, Durban International Convention Centre, emphasised the importance of networking who urged the participants at the Indaba to “come out knowing you have connected, build a strong network.”
“It doesn’t matter which industry you come from; let’s demonstrate our unique strengths; empower others,” she said.
Joanne Mwangi Yelbert, CEO of PMS, Kenya, had some sound advice for women in tourism: “Start from simple to complex. Let’s look for easy things. Authenticity is key, be yourself; don’t pretend to be what you are not.”
Mwangi Yelbert called on women to embrace technology and AI to become successful entrepreneurs and not allow themselves to be left behind in an ever-fast-moving technological world. She, too, emphasised the importance of networking, saying. “Your network is your net worth”.
Winile Mtungwa, Deputy Head, Durban Tourism, echoed her sentiments, arguing that while there were different activities in the tourism value chain, women seemed to occupy the soft spaces like becoming secretaries.
“Let us break barriers,” she said, calling on women to get into the technical fields instead of limiting themselves to providing accommodation.
Panellists also raised the importance of passing on skills to the younger generation. A member of the audience Mel Thlapi of the Soweto Travel shop, spoke of how she mentored young people by providing them with practical knowledge.
A delegate from India raised the issue of the role of the informal sector, ubuntu, and service in boosting tourism in Africa.
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