Owner of Leratong Tourism, Sibusiso Mvulane’s journey in tourism started from the moment he was a young boy. “I’ve always had a passion for tourism and always wanted to host people in my house,” he laughs. “That’s why I decided to study tourism at school.”
However, when Sibusiso applied for tourism jobs as a young man, he found that employers asked for years’ of experience. He did not become discouraged but instead decided to identify a need in his own community and he simply started doing what he loved to do: organising horse riding tours for travellers in the area.
Sibusiso decided to involve the entire community in his enterprise, Leratong Tourism. A part of the income he generates goes to unemployed members of the community who owned horses. This empowers them to join in the horse riding tours Sibusiso organises.
“Most of the trips we organise are about 3 hours long with various stops along the way. People don’t need experience to ride. To be honest, the majority of the travellers who join us have never ridden before,” he says.
Leratong Tourism quickly evolved, and Sibusiso is now also offering hiking trips as well as organising camping equipment for people who want to have a mobile camping experience.
“We can set up mobile camps anywhere for avid campers who don’t have the equipment available. We will even organise activities for the campers as well as provide a private chef at the campsite,” he explains.
We sat down with Subisiso to chat about his business and his passion:
What are some of the main challenges you encountered?
The location has been my greatest challenge. Most travellers who visit the Free State know Clarens and don’t really look beyond this popular little town.
We don’t have a lot of infrastructure, so it’s hard to market the destination and make people aware of what we offer. There are no road signs or no directions for travellers.
What is your advice for people wanting to start a tourism business in your region?
The best advice I can give them is to focus on and understand the needs of the people in the region. We need to start building infrastructure in the region where people can relax and meet up for drinks while enjoying the scenery.
What makes your region really and truly stand out?
We don’t have wildlife or entertainment, we have incredible scenery. In my region, riders get to experience two countries – South Africa and Lesotho – at the same time on horseback, at 2,000m above sea level with the Golden Gate Highlands National Park on the horizon. They get to see real herd boys and taste organic food cuisine, as well as the source of the 200km-long Caledon River while hearing about its history as they ride alongside it to its source.
Is there anything you wish you had known before you started your business?
I wish I would have focused more on social media marketing and digital content. The majority of my clients today find me through platforms such as Instagram.
Do you have any funny anecdotes to share with us?
One of our visitors from Oslo, Denmark, on a horse riding tour couldn’t quite understand the local name for his horse. So, after he tried to pronounce the local name a few times, he just declared he was going to call his horse Viking. To this day, the horse is still called Viking, and we’ve introduced a new initiative where tourists are allowed to name their horse.
How important is technology to market yourself?
Technology has become incredibly important if you want to market yourself overseas. I’ve always cherished the idea of creating an app where people will have easy access to everything I have to offer in terms of tourism. It’s important for people to be able to find information, get directions and be able to book immediately in one place.
What makes your tourism offering truly unique?
I believe in growing the community through tourism. If community members have horses, I ask them to join me in my enterprise. For those who don’t, I have organised arts and crafts. A lot of the women and the youth have started producing souvenirs out of local materials. We invite them to join us and market together with us.
So what I would like to say to anybody who wants to visit us is that every time you come to Lerato Tourism, you help us make a difference to a family in our region.
What do you love the most about South Africa and about your region?
I’m still amazed by the hospitality and the warmth that the South African people have. South Africa gives you this warm feeling that you can be yourself no matter which culture you are.
In my own region, I love the silence and quiet.