With sublime coastal regions, mesmerising wildlife getaways, and cosmopolitan inner-city attractions it’s no wonder why the South African tourism industry has enjoyed the spotlight as of late. In the UK The Telegraph titled the country as the “world’s greatest holiday destination”, and our Minister of Tourism, Patricia de Lille, has revealed that we saw a 152.6% increase in tourist arrivals when comparing 2021 to 2022.
These encouraging developments are a testament to the hard work, dedication, and world-class service that South African tourism employees are bringing to the table. However, no discussion on South Africa’s tourism sector would be complete without recognising and highlighting the true trailblazers of the field: devoted women.
As we embrace Women’s Month it’s time to marvel at the local women who comprise nearly 70% of our country’s tourism industry, some of which inspire more people to pursue their passions for this vocation. These women are the backbone of our tourism businesses, and they have valuable insights for other young women to forge their own careers in tourism job opportunities.
One such woman, who has seen success in a tourism career, is Sarah Watson, Guest Relations Manager at Kruger Gate Hotel, who shines a light on why this is an incredible line of work. Sarah caught the travel bug while working at Flight Centre for more than a decade, then moved into the hospitality industry, where she has excelled in guest relations. On average Sarah engages with at least 50 guests a day, some of which have travelled to South Africa from destinations like India and Jamaica.
Why passion matters
There are a myriad of character traits and talents people working in tourism need to have, but one trait that is essential, says Watson, is to have a passion for what you are doing. “You have to be passionate about wanting to make a guest’s experience a memorable one, to do the things that will make them feel their stay with you is unlike anything they have experienced before. That lies within your power, so if you don’t wake up in the morning and feel passionate about what you’re going to be doing that day, you won’t have that effect on a guest who is staying with you,” says Watson.
From gaining perspectives on unique cultures to meeting travellers visiting South Africa from far-flung parts of the globe, people who work in the tourism and hospitality industry are able to enjoy a career where no two days are the same. Touching on how young women can enter this exciting line of work Watson suggests that they try to gain experience in a variety of jobs in the industry, such as working at restaurants, tour companies, travel agencies, and hotels or lodges in their areas.
Make authentic connections
The women of South Africa’s tourism industry have the magic touch of leaving a lasting impact on guests, and in turn, walk away with enriching anecdotes. “You want people to have a positive emotional connection to your establishment and remember it for years to come. Not only is it a pleasing memory but it will serve you well if they refer you to others, or return for subsequent stays. If people see that you value them and are committed to understanding and meeting their needs during a stay, authentic connections are created, advises Watson.
“We had a group of guests from the United States stay with us and while they were there, one of the women in the group asked me where she could get one of the decorative woven circles that are hung up in our hotel’s walkways. I was able to obtain one and when I presented it to her and her husband, they burst into tears. They shared with me that the woven circle was an emblem they’d wanted to take back to their daughter, who had been diagnosed with cancer.
“They showed me a photo of their daughter, who’d had to shave her hair during chemotherapy, and in the image she was wearing woven circular earrings that looked just like smaller versions of the gift I’d just give them, In fact, the daughter even had the emblem tattooed in the exact same design. The couple stayed in contact with me after their return to the US, and I was later delighted to hear their daughter’s cancer has gone into remission.”
Understand what guests need
It’s heartwarming experiences such as these that fire up Sarah’s passion for hospitality even further. As an ardent believer in the unique touch women brings to the tourism industry, she believes that it will serve to strengthen the rising trend globally of women travelling solo or as a group of women together.
According to Booking.com, 84% of solo travellers are women, and TikTok trend insights reveal that content under #solofemaletraveller has garnered 556 million views over the last year. Beyond the conventional clichés on self-discovery, setting on a solo journey gives women the opportunity to enjoy holiday destinations in ways that suit their individual interests. Research from Statista shows that women venture on solo adventures in order to get away from their routines, challenge themselves and take some time out to relax.
“Travelling alone is a wonderful adventure to embrace, and anyone who may be nervous about solo travel should know that the hospitality industry is mindful of this,” says Watson. Her message to women looking to enjoy a solo or group women’s trip is to look for places to stay that offer features and services that will make you feel more secure.
Watson advises women who are travelling alone to ensure that they keep their phones charged, let someone trusted know where they are going and when they should arrive, and ask their hotel if there are any opportunities to join in group activities, like group safaris, should they wish to be around other travellers.
“You do need to take care, as any traveller does, but I would advise women travelling alone to take hotels upon services such as airport shuttles, guides and getting assurance that their hotel does have security on the property,” Watson shares.
“Tourism is such a vibrant and ever-growing industry to work in. It’s undoubtedly hard work but I never get tired of meeting new guests arriving and hearing their feedback. The bush is a magical and enchanting place where guests find such serenity, but especially our international visitors are blown away by the country’s friendliness and level of service,” Watson concludes.