Ready to blossom

2011-01-31 00:00

NELLY Sibiya who runs Siphumelele Bed and Breakfast in Mpophomeni is currently just over halfway through a six-month mentorship organised by the Tourism Mentorship Programme (TMP) run by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT).

TMP began in 2003 with a pilot project in the Western Cape and was extended to KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Cape in 2005. The programme is designed to boost the development of black-owned tourism businesses by pairing them with established and successful businesses in the same field.

“We call them partnerships,” says Nathi Mzila, provincial DEAT TMP project manager. “We advertise for candidates to apply or, alternatively, we consult all the tourist associations and bodies in the province on our database who then propose potential candidates.”

The Zulu Mpophomeni Tourism Enterprise (ZMTE) was one of the organisations consulted by DEAT. Founded in 1998, bed and breakfasts were one of the first projects that ZMTE got off the ground. Last April Sibaya’s bed and breakfast became the first such establishment in Mpophomeni to be awarded a two-star grading by the Tourism Grading Council so it was only natural that ZMTE manager Frank Mchunu recommend Sibaya as a potential partner for the mentorship programme.

Once a candidate has been put forward the DEAT makes site visits and conducts interviews to see if the candidate’s business meets certain critera. “We look at the future sustainability of the business,” says Mzila.

“We do a needs assessment to see what sort of support it needs, and we also find out what a candidate’s expectations are for the partnership and what support they want from us.”

Tourism businesses that have bene­fited from the programme include tour operators, tour guides, resturants, cafés and various types of accommodation.

“This year we are running 15 partnerships throughout the province,” says Mzila. “The partnerships are for 12 months or, preferably, six months, depending on the readiness and the level of the business. Some just need a little mentoring to blossom.”

“Matching a mentor to the right person is really important,” says Mzila. “Recruiting the right mentors is key. They should have an understanding of the nature of the business and the needs of those they mentor. They should be someone who has faced the same challenges and walked the same route. Someone who can act as a sounding board for thoughts and ideas.”

When it comes to running a bed and breakfast, Raylene Sayers is an ideal mentor. She runs successful bed-and-breakfast enterprises in Durban and Johannesburg. “If you want to mentor you have to have relevant experience,” she says. “If you are going to give something, you have to have something to give.”

Sayers was herself mentored in an earlier TMP intake. “There were lots of things I wanted to do,” she recalls. “I had the qualifications and a few systems in place but I didn’t want to be an island. I wanted to know what others were doing. I wanted to strategise, to brainstorm, and get to the next level with my business.”

This saw Sayer open a conference centre as part of her Durban operation, expand her Johannesburg branch and develop an airport shuttle service for each business. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn, one can only benefit,” says Sayers, who now sits on the National Accommodation Association of South Africa.

Once Sayers and Sibiya had been paired they set about meeting once a week. “When Raylene and I first we met we came up with a business plan,” says Sibiya. “She asked me how the business was going, what the challenges, the strengths and weaknesses were, and what I would need to do to grow the business. Then she identified things to do.”

Out of this came a business plan, essentially a list of objectives to be achieved by the end of the six-month mentorship period. Among those was the need for an Internet website. At the moment potential guests access Siphumelele Bed and Breakfast via the ZMTE website. “But people like to look at where they are going to stay,” says Sibiya. “So a dedicated website is important.”

Sibiya, with help from DEAT, is now looking for a sponsor for the website. Business cards are also on the to-do list, while Sibaya has already brushed up her accounting skills and learnt how to do spreadsheets as well as a little local networking. “I am getting to know my local competitors, so that if they are full they can pass on guests to stay here.”

Sayers says that at each meeting she and Sibaya assess their progress and she provides monthly reports to the DEAT. “These detail if we have met our objectives,” she says. “And what still needs to be followed up.”

The DEAT actively monitors the mentor partnerships. “We do ‘mystery visits’ to check if what is supposed to be happening is happening,” says Mzila. “The focus is on the mentors to deliver. We monitor progress, and where there are challenges or bottlenecks we see what can be done to sort them out.”

Sibiya and Sayers’ partnership officially ends in March. “But a real mentor relationship will never end,” says Sayers. “It’s a lifetime partnership.

“Nelly is wonderful. She has such a huge passion to learn. It’s early days yet, but she has the potential to be the top business in town.”

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