The women behind Jurni take the lead…
The year 2020 has been a challenging time in the tourism industry, not only in South Africa, but globally. Many flourishing tourism businesses saw their income dry up overnight with the arrival of COVID-19. It has dealt a particularly cruel blow to the women in our country – with over 70% of the tourism workforce made up by women.
Tourism has always offered women in South Africa incredible potential to hold leadership positions, explains Dr Nomvuselelo Songelwa, who heads up tourism technology and data company Jurni. She explains UN Women, in collaboration with United Nations World Tourism Organization and Amadeus, recently released a report that indicated that across the private and public sectors women are harnessing the potential of tourism to become financially independent, challenge stereotypes and start their own businesses.
Also the Jurni team consists mainly of women. Next to Dr Songelwa, three powerful women, Jannine Adams, Strategic Project Manager, and Sinazo Sgwabe, Lead Supervisor at the Jurni Contact Centre, and Vughala Mashitoa, Junior Finance Controller, have helped make the technology company what it is today.
Jannine Adams explains she loves being involved in the strategy of such an innovative and ground-breaking initiative in the South African market. “What I love the most about my job is having the opportunity to be part of something meaningful. My work allows me to participate in and drive the agenda to develop technology that does not only exist for profit but one that can and will impact our industry growth, opportunity and inclusivity. As long as there is an ambition greater than the bottom line, I will keep going,” she says.
Also for Vughala Mashitoa, Jurni has brought fantastic opportunities to grow and develop herself. With a national diploma of finance under her belt already, Jurni is giving her the time and opportunity to study towards her BCom at University. “Working at Jurni has really give me a deeper understanding, not only of the company and its finances, but of the country as a whole,” she says. With a good insight into the financial situation of the industry, Vughala would like to urge tourism players not to lose hope. “The opportunities exist, so don’t give up,” she says.
Sinazo heads up a team of eight young vibrant Jurni ambassadors, seven of whom are women. She says she is overseeing the day-to-day running of the contact centre for the Jurni booking tool. She leads the onboarding process for tourism establishments who want to register onto the booking tool and assists tourism players who are trying to recover from the pandemic.
Sinazo explains it is a very difficult time for the travel and tourism industry and she is being faced with heart-wrenching stories on a daily basis. “The instability of the tourism industry is very difficult for accommodation owners today. They don’t know what is going to happen, they feel side-lined by insurance companies as well as by the government, and they feel a deep sense of frustration and despair. I’ve seen people who have been active in the industry for over 30 years who have had to close their doors because they can’t afford to keep their business open with no tourism.”
Fortunately, there has also been positive news with intraprovincial and business travel reopening. “Tourism is a resilient industry,” says Sinazo. “And I know that tourism will return and recover. One day soon, tourists will flock to the shores of our beautiful country again in search of authentic and uniquely African experiences.”
Jannine Adams agrees and says: “Times are hard for many these days and as a woman, keeping your head in the game takes a lot of effort when you are in survival mode. It causes you to act and think in desperation which only creates a downward slope in all the areas of your life. My advice is to see the season for what it is and ride the wave if and where possible. If necessary, make changes that will suit your situation and do them sooner rather than later, but always seek out the good that can come from a bad situation.”
According to Jannine, there is nothing more fulfilling than choosing to love others. “Try finding ways to uplift, encourage and enable fellow sisters and see what real joy that will bring to you. Life is a journey, so be patient and do things right. You never know which way the tables might turn. So keep building bridges. When it comes around, you will find yourself in the right place at the right time!”
Dr Songelwa explains more than ever before, tourists worldwide will be looking for undiscovered, unique and authentic tourism experiences. After having been locked down in their houses for months on end,” believes Dr Songelwa, “The vast open spaces of South Africa will offer a welcome relief. They are keen to start experiencing our culture and connect with our people again.”
The future of tourism technology
Dr Songelwa says now is the time for tourism providers in South Africa, no matter how big or small, to make sure they embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “It is time for our country to highlight the experiences we have to offer beyond the major tourist attractions. We need to make it easier for the traveller, the tour operator and the travel agent to find out what our country has to offer,” she says.
Jurni has developed a booking tool, where tourism establishments can sign up free of charge with no hidden subscription fees. “We know how difficult it is for tourism establishments to invest in anything while they are fighting for their survival. We want to give tourism SMMEs the opportunity to get their offering online and be part of the future of tourism,” she says.
“We are all driven by what is happening globally in terms of tourism technology. In South Africa, so far, we have taken a reactive approach. It’s time to change this and lead the way. We have to respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and ensure that the tourism players in our country – from small rural one-woman ventures to the bigger players – are in the digital realm.”
According to Dr Songelwa, technological innovation in tourism can come in many different forms and shapes. There are numerous women (and men) who have innovated our tourism landscape through tourism technology or innovative ideas on a very high level.
However, almost more exciting to see, are the women entrepreneurs in rural areas who are innovating in their region by using technology to market their small tourism establishments and putting them on the international map. Says Dr Songelwa, “This kind of innovation leads to true transformation not only for the tourism sector, but for our country as a whole.” “As women, we need to be role models,” concludes Dr Songelwa. “We need to continue building each other up. We can’t all be activists or celebrities , but we have to ensure that for every woman we meet, we have a positive impact. We need to share , embrace , empower and uplift each other. Womanhood is about celebrating community and households, and men are part of that circle . Our responsibility is to love our counterparts and raise our boy children to appreciate women . In that way our legacy will be imprinted onto generations to come.”