- Bonolo Sebata is the owner of the Kone Village Boutique Lodge in Limpopo.
- She was one of the small businesses hosted by SA Tourism at the giant ITB trade fair in Berlin, Germany recently.
- She shares her journey from working in a bank, to becoming a construction entrepreneur, and ending up turning a planned family home into a successful tourism business.
- GOOD NEWS DAY IS BACK! News24 celebrates the people restoring pride in our country. Read their stories here
Bonolo Sebata and her husband Kone initially set out to build themselves a home-away-from-home for when they visited family in the Vhembe district of Limpopo.
Young people in the surrounding Ha-Ramantsha Village thought a tourism property was being constructed and started dropping off their CVs. This gave the couple the idea of developing something similar to that, instead of just a home for themselves.
And so the Kone Village Boutique Lodge was born.
Bonolo shared her journey with News24 on the sidelines of the recent giant ITB tourism trade fair in Berlin, where she was one of the small businesses hosted at the SA Tourism (SAT) stand.
"After they have done safaris, tourists are looking for other experiences that SA offers. They want to better understand the diversity of cultures that SA is all about. We offer them an officially graded 4-star experience in a village. They can not only interact with the residents but also see how they contribute to job creation in the area by visiting us," says Bonolo.
"We decided to invest in the village instead of the city so our guests can be culturally enriched. They call us a gem in Limpopo. We have also inspired others in the village to consider offering B&Bs for tourist stays."
Bonolo used to work for a large commercial bank in Johannesburg as a financial consultant in international trade services and that is where she met her husband.
In 2006 she left the banking industry when opportunities opened up for women in the construction sector. She attended construction workshops and started to specialise in refurbishments.
"My journey as an entrepreneur already started when I was a little girl, helping my mother, who knitted and sold jerseys to keep our family going," she remembers.
"My husband has family in Limpopo, and when we went there to attend family events, it was a challenge to find decent accommodation. So we bought two hectares of land near Makhado [formerly known as Louis Trichardt] to build ourselves a comfortable home with large rooms and big verandahs. We ended up seeing an opportunity to rather change it into a resort. We set out learning about what was a new world of hospitality for us at the time, including how to cost the rooms."
The lodge boasts a swimming pool nestled among palm trees, a restaurant serving traditional cuisine, a spa, a banqueting hall, and conference room.
Bonolo is grateful for the assistance of Limpopo Tourism to enable her to get exposure at such a big platform as ITB. For her, it means her lodge can potentially grow to the next level.
They also host events and conferences and collaborate with nearby initiatives offering activities like ziplining and hiking.
"Who said business and life is easy?" she responds when asked about the challenging time for the hospitality sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"You must be resilient and believe in what you are doing and where you want to go. It was from our hearts that we converted a property that was supposed to be our home and opened it to tourists. The whole village now looks at the hospitality sector differently," she explains.
Nomasonto Ndlovu, chief operating officer of SAT, told News24 that one should not underestimate the impact women are making in the tourism sector.
"Women are hard workers, and we appreciate their efforts in the tourism industry. They are making an important contribution towards job creation and socio-economic development," she said.
"We are once again seeing the importance of travel shows like ITB as one of the cornerstones of marketing our destination to the world. The interest attracted by the small businesses hosted at our stand shows the wide variety of interest in SA."