There is nothing Tshepo Marumo loves more than his own country, and one street in particular: Vilakazi Street.
His love for Vilakazi Street dates back to 2009, when he was working as a tourism intern at the Mandela House, the former residence of South African president Nelson Mandela. During his internship he saw the potential this historic street had to offer, and decided to apply the knowledge he gained from his Tourism Development studies to build the historic Vilakazi Street into a world-class tourist attraction.
“The street has many interesting places to experience and enjoy. We have restaurants, culture and tourism as well as bookshops, B&Bs and art,” says Tshepo, adding that the region never ceases to amaze and surprise people. “Even locals will learn new things on tours of the area, whether it is about the area’s music, food or even its hidden gems. I always surprise my clients: I show them the new developments in the city and take them to the thriving Maboneng area. I introduce them to new foods, new music and give them a glimpse into the history of the area. I always tailor-make my tours based on the interests of the clients”
Tshepo created an online presence for this worthwhile tourist attraction in the form of a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/VilakaziST). On this page, he promotes the local vendors as well as walking tours and packages incorporating all the local businesses.
Having studied tourism development, Tshepo acutely realised the importance of collaboration in the tourism industry. He started working with local business owners, B&Bs, museum managers, street vendors, artists and even car guards. “Collaboration is key if you want to achieve anything worthwhile and really boost tourism to the area,” he said.
It is this collaboration that has helped tourism entrepreneurs in the area keep their head above water during these difficult COVID-19 times. “2020 has been a difficult year for all of us. We saw international arrivals come to an almost complete stand-still. And even though south Africans are still booking excursions and trips, budgets are tight, and people find it difficult to book in advance. It has been challenging, especially for the crafts vendors and the local businesses on the street,” says Tshepo.
He adds: “I love the community involvement and collaboration on Vilakazi Street. We managed to really put together some great experiences by working together. Everything we do shows that we support local business. It is also by working together that we have managed to implement the strict COVID-19 health protocols that are needed during these trying times. After all: we are all ambassadors for tourism. We are a true tourism community.”
For the future, Tshepo has ambitious plans. “I want to secure funding to start my own tourism office in Soweto,” he says. “Once that is in place, the sky is the limit. I will be able to put packages together, not only for Vilakazi Street and Soweto but to anywhere in this beautiful country.”
Although times are challenging, Tshepo is feeling confident about the future. “As true as my name is Tshepo, I know that in 2021 travel will come back.”