Jurni Gem Zoliswa Mtinini started Kwanda Voluntourism in the Eastern Cape because she felt that South Africans have a story to tell.
“It is clear that the International market is interested to know about us, as they continue to visit our country and enjoy the beauty, cultural heritage and hospitality of our country,” she explains. “I saw that opportunity, and decided to do something about it.”
Kwanda Voluntourism is a unique and innovative social enterprise business, focused on volunteer tourism as a means of raising funds and providing other forms of assistance to expand the delivery of community development projects in rural Eastern Cape.
Kwanda matches volunteers to projects within high-need communities in the Eastern Cape. Says Zoliswa: “These projects give international volunteers the opportunity to connect with communities in the rural villages around East London in the Eastern Cape and make a real difference – working together, learning from one another, and transferring skills to empower people. We believe that, after the programme, volunteers will go home inspired, with a new awareness of what shapes everyday life, and a vision to make a difference.”
Zoliswa recalls that she once took a group of travellers on a Gospel Tour experience in one of the local communities. “The travellers didn’t want to leave. They cried and said we sing beautifully and that they wished their churches in Europe were as vibrant, colourful and charismatic as ours in South Africa. It was a heart-warming and profound human experience”
The Jurni team chatted to Zoliswa about her journey in the tourism industry.
How difficult is it for up-and-coming entrepreneurs to start a tourism business in South Africa?
It is very difficult as a start-up. However, if you have done your research well, things will eventually fall into place.
What did you find the most difficult part of starting your business?
The most difficult part is access to funding. Finding the right start-up capital is a nightmare. However, there are ways where you can get help if you do your research well and you know where to go.
When you start, you are often only driven by passion and that is what keeps you going.
What other challenges did you encounter?
Even though I knew my target market, it was not easy to reach them because I did not have a good website. I found I needed to invest more than I expected in online marketing.
What have you found is the most effective marketing strategy?
Marketing for SMME’s is a very expensive exercise. It needs constant cash injections because returns on investments are not happening overnight. It takes some time, so you need to be patient. You need to keep building and not lose focus.
What is some of the other advice you would like to share with starting tour operators in the region?
It is important for tour operators to understand the industry. They need to do a lot of research about their target market and attend business networking meetings to meet with other role players in the space in which they are operating.
What is the one thing you wish you had known when you started this business?
I wish I had understood more about partnerships and contracts. I wish I had known how to draw up a solid contract so that when one partner decides to part ways, it does not impact on the business.
Would you do anything differently?
I would not go into partnerships again without knowing and understanding the advantages and disadvantages of partnering. I wish I had a good financial background so that I would not make bad decisions when it comes to cash flow management
How important is technology to build and promote your tourism business?
Technology changes all the time. You need to move with times and be techno-savvy. You need to know which platform your target market prefers so you can follow them on their preferred platform.
What do you love the most about your career and about South Africa?
I love connecting people. I love our hospitality. As people of different cultures, we all have certain things in common: our hospitality, our pride and our unwavering willingness to go the extra mile.