To start a tourism company in rural South Africa is not a simple task. It takes a lot of hard work, perseverance, and passion. However, Velile Ndlumbini of Imonti Tours shows that it can be done successfully.
With hardly any black tour operators active in the rural parts of East London, Velile saw a gap in the market and decided to launch Imonti Tours to provide tourists with an opportunity to interact with locals for a more enriching tourism experience.
Velile shares excellent advice for people who would like to start a tour operator in the region. He says: “It is very important to have a unique product that everyone knows about. Once you have that, you can build your business around it. Also, focus more on your service, reliability, communication and on quality rather than quantity. Once you’ve got the quality, the quantity will follow”. He encourages up-and-coming entrepreneurs to do their research and not to fall into the trap of thinking that they will have financial success immediately.
Velile feels that he was very fortunate when he started his business because he was surrounded by the best people in the industry. Everyone was ready to assist him. He received good advice from tour operators like Jimmy Ntintili from Face to Face Tours and Paul from Calabash Tours, to mention a few. With years of experience, they gave him the platform, along with sound advice on how to do business and who to talk to about growing his business.
“To make it in this industry, you need to be visible and understand which channel is good to promote your business,” Velile says. Marketing his business locally has been a challenge for him because most locals get excited about the product but end up not making any bookings.
Challenges like the one Velile faces is exactly why Jurni, an innovative public-private venture, has been created. Says Dr. Nomvuselelo Songelwa, CEO Jurni: “Our platform will allow smaller SMMEs to promote their experiences or properties to South Africa’s source markets in the same way the bigger providers promote their offering. It will at the same time bring an enhanced visitor experience, unlocking the hidden gems of our country to international and local travellers, as well as become an invaluable data hub that will benefit everyone in the tourism industry.”
Velile has been more successful in marketing his business to overseas tourists. The vast majority (95%) of his clients are international clients. He has attracted travellers from countries such as Belgium, and it is booming.
Velile wants to focus a lot more on the local market which will help his younger and upcoming guides to get experience in hosting guests.
His favourite destination in South Africa is the Wild Coast because it is truly a hidden gem. You can hike there and visit cultural villages, a genuine vacation trend that is still untapped in the Eastern Cape.