Special focus on SMEs at SA Tourism Indaba

Cape Town - A total of 90 small businesses or “Hidden Gems” from around South Africa have been selected to receive expert coaching ahead of their sponsored debut at Indaba in Durban in May, courtesy of the National SME Market Access project.

This initiative is funded by the National Department of Tourism through its Tourism Incentive Programme and is being executed by SA Tourism in partnership with the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa).

It is aimed at broadening the variety of tourism products on the market while upskilling and empowering black-owned small enterprises operating in this sphere, explains SA Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona.

The main component of the project is getting the SMEs “market ready” for their participation at SA Tourism’s Indaba, to be held at the Durban ICC from 16 to 18 May 2017. They will also have the opportunity to present their businesses to trade during a speed networking event.

“It’s crucial for the health and evolution of our sector that we help to incubate start-ups and small businesses, especially those that add new, authentic flavours to our country’s tourism platter. Our Hidden Gems pavilion at Indaba has already been met with much enthusiasm and interest, and we can’t wait to see how these innovative tourism ‘jewels’ shine on the trade floor,” says Ntshona.

READ: Tourism’s potential: A boost worth billions of rand

Best of the best chosen

After a rigorous process during which the SMEs had to present their offerings to a panel, 90 were selected out of an initial cohort of about 300 based on the relevance of their product and their potential to be sold into the international market.

They hail from each of the nine provinces, and range from safari tour operators to adventure tourism experiences, from African day spas to township restaurants, from B&Bs to boutique hotels and from horse riding operations to helicopter rides.

Satsa chief operating officer Hannelie du Toit explains that the 300-plus businesses received initial training in their respective provinces.

At the trade show, their offerings will be grouped according to the themes cultural roots, active adventure and city lifestyle. They will also have the opportunity to set up meetings with international buyers and other delegates via the online diary system.

READ: 5 million more tourists in five years - SA Tourism

Empowerment in action

One of the businesses benefiting from the National SME Market Access project is Sibusiso Mvelane’s Free State-based Leratong Horse Riding. He offers rides in the Maluti-Drakensberg area for local and international tourist groups, and also sells locally made arts and crafts. It’s only been in operation since December, but already Mvelane has been able to employ five people on a temporary basis.

“Our riders get to experience two countries – South Africa and Lesotho – at the same time on horseback, at 2 000m above sea level with the Golden Gate Highlands national Park on the horizon,” he says. “They get to see real herd boys and taste organic food cuisine, as well as the source of the 200km-long Caledon River.”

It’s been difficult to access funding to create a professional website and an app, he says, but believes the mentorship and Indaba platform “will give us more exposure and more of a client base, as well as help us apply good and professional business standards”.

The SMEs are enthusiastic about the opportunities that have been opened up by their participation in the Hidden Gems market access initiative, saying it has enabled them to meet and network with each other, with several forging partnerships and planning new ventures and tour routes together.

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