​Travel indaba boosts small tourism businesses

Founder of Bella Bonnie Guesthouse Bonni Nkosi with her employee Henry Mthombothi at Africa's Travel Indaba at the Durban ICC. (Photos: Siya Miti)

Founder of Bella Bonnie Guesthouse Bonni Nkosi with her employee Henry Mthombothi at Africa's Travel Indaba at the Durban ICC. (Photos: Siya Miti)

Reboneng Nkosi says the Africa’s Travel Indaba has given her business a valuable marketing platform and interface with potential clients.

Bella Bonni Guest House — named after the owner “Bonnie” and her friend Belinda, who sold her the home from which she runs her guesthouse in Witbank, Mpumalanga province — has grown from humble beginnings with six rooms in 2004 to its current 35 rooms.

Nkosi credits the success of her business to the support she has received from South African Tourism, as well as the provincial and local tourism authorities since she started her business. Nkosi said SA Tourism’s support has helped her grow a winning business over the years.

“I see that SA Tourism is taking me seriously. They are exposing me. I’m part of the Hidden Gems they take along to the Indaba. That exposes us to potential clients and the media, which gives us further exposure. We have survived some difficult years where business was slow and what helps us is that SA Tourism takes care of us. Our province also helps to us to expose and promote our business. I am grateful for everything they do for me, and grab every opportunity,” said Nkosi.

In her 12 years in business, Nkosi has won no less than six awards including the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Award (Eteya) in 2016, the Eteya provincial award in 2010, and the FNB Woman Leader of the Year (tourism sector) in 2008. 

“I quit teaching in 2004. I bought the first property and turned it into a guesthouse. It did so well that after three months I decided to buy the property next door and incorporate that into the guesthouse,” she said.

She has since been able to buy other properties along the same street in cash, and is looking for more opportunities to expand.

“We now have 35 rooms in Emalahleni and we have another property in Pretoria. I am currently looking for another property in Durban.”

Nkosi said she strives to give visitors a value-added service, which includes an authentic South African cultural experience, in a location where they can also experience adventure.

“People don’t drive all the way from KwaZulu-Natal or Gauteng just to sleep at our guesthouse, so we want to give them an experience. We have launched the Bella Bonni Kasi Eatery; we want to give people the township experience and the cuisine from various cultures across the country. We are also a stone throw away from the Tsogo Sun casino,” she said.

Nkosi said Bella Bonnie is located close to the Witbank Dam “the biggest dam in the Southern hemisphere” so guests have access to water sports and cruises.

“Then you can go to the Kruger, where you can do the game drive and view lions and other wild animals. Our Nkangala region is the cultural heartland where artist Gogo Esther Mahlangu comes from; now she’s an international icon,” said Nkosi.

East London entrepreneur Lizelle Maurice, who is also part of SA Tourism’s Hidden Gems programme, credited the tourism authority together with the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency for the success of her business, Park Place.

“We benefit in terms of exposure and establishing contacts. We build new business relationships and you find that because people do business with people they know, they like and they trust, so the more you come to the Indaba, the more those relationships are cemented. You are able to build relationships, and it really is a platform that helps SMMEs to create relationships,” she said, adding that the bigger picture of SA Tourism’s marketing platforms is to boost tourism in the provinces as well as throughout the country.

Maurice, who co-founded and runs the four-star establishment with her husband Clide and which opened to guests in December 2013, was the Eastern Cape finalist in the Tourism Grading Council’s Lilizela Awards 2014 — within a year of opening her business.

She came first in the emerging entrepreneur category in the province and was in the top four nationally. Maurice also placed second in the Tsogo Sun Entrepreneurial Awards nationally.

Since then, the couple has expanded their guesthouse, investing in two more adjacent properties, one of which has been converted into a conference centre. Park Place currently has 27 bedrooms.

“We started in December 2013 and we only had 12 bedrooms and we had 10 staff members at the time. We’ve added 15 bedrooms over the last four years and now we have 27 staff. Our payroll is between 30 and 35 staff members; we take on casuals when it’s busy. We’ve really developed over the four years,” said Maurice.

“When we started we registered with Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency and local tourism authorities. They gave us exposure to SA Tourism and the Tsogo Sun programme, and that has helped us grow.”

Maurice said the guesthouse attracts business clientele and international visitors alike. “We attract Germans a lot because we have a Mercedes-Benz plant in East London. We also attract leisure tourists, because we are close to the beach and we have two excellent game parks close by.”