After studying tourism management at the University of Pretoria, Makeda Khoza worked for major corporations such as the Sheraton hotel chain in the capital city before deciding to make it on her own.
She founded Miyelani Travel Consultants in 2014, in Thohoyandou, Limpopo to focus on marketing the province, the Vhembe region and its distinct culture and heritage, in the far north of the country.
One of the most famous icons, The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 2003. The 1 000-year-old kingdom was one of the largest in sub-Saharan Africa and is an Iron Age archeological site. It existed as a sophisticated commercial centre, trading gold and ivory around the world. The site is close to the point where the Limpopo and Shashe rivers meet.
The Vhembe area is also well known for its scenic beauty, with rock art dating back to what is believed to be the Khoisan, and has banana plantations, subtropical fruit and tobacco fields.
Khoza believes tourists should experience the culture and heritage of the former homelands area.
“These places and attractions were underexposed; I want to link visitors to locals, so they don’t just come to South Africa to see nature,” Khoza says. Most of her clients who request tailor-made heritage and cultural tours are international. “It seems they have a bigger interest in learning about other traditions,” Khoza says. However, she has recently seen an upsurge in interest from South Africans looking for weekend and overnight trips in the Vhembe district.
Khoza says some of her biggest challenges have centered around ensuring that accommodation suppliers in the largely rural area have the necessary standards to attract international clientele. She also cites access to finance as a constant headache.
“It’s not easy to get funding from banks — the tourism industry has a very high turnover — you always need money in your hands so you can work,” Khoza says of the highly competitive sector.
She says that in response to funding issues, she was forced to rely on her creative streak and went back to communities, trying to involve local artists and local structures in her tourism packages.