The travel and tourism sector is one of the hardest hit by South Africa’s COVID-19 imposed lockdown – and the global uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.
Although the industry, through the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), is lobbying hard for the return of local and international travel (perhaps as early as September), the outlook remains grim.
The TBCSA predicts that 600,000 tourism jobs could be lost this year alone, which would be a devastating reality for anyone working in the sector.
But in true South Africa spirit, people are pulling together – and nowhere is this more evident than in the launch of Mzansi Tourism Champions, an online platform dedicated to championing the needs of those working in the tourism field.
Heinie Bosman, one of the founders, says that Mzansi Tourism Champions is a collaborative effort across sectors, which hopes to bring immediate support or relief to immediate problems.
“The website matches people in need with people who can help. It’s very much a platform of ‘asks’ and ‘answers’. We hope that by building a network of people who can offer skills, advice and monetary donations that we’ll all be able to weather the storm.”
A ‘strong collective’ is the at the heart of Mzansi Tourism Champions. Any individuals in the industry, from agents and operators, to freelance guides and business owners, can register on the website and set up a profile. Once they have a profile, they can either ask for help, or offer assistance.
“Through an honest, supportive and constructive platform, we aim to unify current efforts,” says Bosman.
“We want to bring various parties together to facilitate the distribution of donations, especially to those who are struggling to access relief funds and schemes.”
The platform is not focused solely on financial support. According to Bosman, Mzansi Tourism Champions will act as a marketplace for a number of different services, from free legal advice to design or copywriting skills.
“Essentially, the website aims to put two people together. For example, if Tom needs data for his work, he can post this request. Lizzy sees the post and has R100 available. She messages Tom directly in order to get his details and buy him some data.”
In many ways, it is a simple, straightforward way for people in the tourism industry to support someone in need. But it is so much more.
There are “Think Tank” discussions on how to improve the industry, how to innovate for the future and collaborative discussions on how to solve pressing industry issues and dilemmas.
“We really hope that the industry will connect to share their wisdom, learnings and experiences over this time,” says Bosman.
“We’re confident that this platform will offer the support needed – and that people will pay it forward.”
Mzansi Tourism Champions also allows members (or champions) the opportunity to raise the profile of their own business, service or offering. One can write a blog about your travel adventures, share photographs and celebrate all that South Africa offers.
For Bosman, Mzansi Tourism Champions is a community, a network and a safe space for the industry to come together: “Any collaboration is welcome, and we’re hoping that the website and social media channels will grow significantly over the next few weeks. While the need is great, so are the number of people with the skills, energy and will to help.”
The first phase of the project is complete, and Bosman extends a special thank you to Shanaaz Taliep from SAYTC and Tim Louw from Atlantic Point Hostel, who were instrumental in getting it off the ground: “It has been a magical combination,” says Bosman.
“In the words of Tim Louw, ‘while our borders remain closed, our hearts remain open.’”