Chwayita Rixana (35) first spotted a gap in the market in 2010 for a guesthouse close to the OR Tambo International Airport, when she worked as a customer service agent for a major airline. She saw travellers stranded at the airport due to flight delays and long layovers, desperately looking for a nearby place to sleep. She decided to start the guesthouse as a part-time activity at first, as a way of making extra income.
It soon became a full-time job juggling eight rooms, transport solutions and food and beverage options for the mainly international guests who make their way to the Cockpit Guesthouse in Rhodesfield, just over 5km from the airport. Online portals such as Booking.com and Airbnb have helped her advertise and attract clientele.
Rixana says that interacting with guests, hosting them and showing them around South Africa are the best parts of the job. However, she cautions that being a small business is difficult as she must “work twice has hard…because big businesses already have a reputation”. No matter what goes wrong as a small business, you still must deliver, otherwise one risks damaging the fledgling reputation that has been painstakingly built, according to Rixana.
She has six staff members at the guesthouse and her passion project is working with the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality to expose young people to the skills required in tourism, so they are employable by the time they leave the programme. Her business has absorbed two graduates so far.
Rixana says the Africa Travel Indaba has helped her understand the international market and the major tourism buyers. This has allowed her to tailor her packages to what clients are looking for. She also says the networking opportunities at the Indaba keep her in the loop. Even if her guesthouse is full, she works with other accommodation options in the area so as not to turn clients away, an important principle in the tourism Industry.
Like many small businesses, easier access to capital would have been transformative for the Cockpit Guesthouse. Rixana plans to expand her capacity in the next five years by adding more rooms and diversifying her products. She sees another gap for providing “flexi space” close to the airport, where people require structured space for meetings, training and team building exercises.