Mpho Cornelius, who describes herself as an ex-city girl, moved back to her hometown of Kuruman to found the Workshop Ko Kasi in 2016.
After a stint at SA Tourism in Johannesburg, she realised the sparsely populated Northern Cape does not have a lot to offer travellers and wanted to change this.
She started talking to some of the small businesses in the area and realised there were hidden gems, such an elderly man working with wood and another with glass, around Kuruman, known as the Oasis of the Kalahari.
She started up a market with local traders in the town and “people came to Kuruman just for that”, Cornelius says.
She also established a an ecotourism hub in the town, which includes a wellness centre, café and camping site.
“The entire place is made entirely out of recycled material such as wooden pallets to try preserve the old culture and is off the electricity grid,” Cornelius says.
The Northern Cape has some of the hottest temperatures in the country and Cornelius connected the ecotourism hub, which is proving to be a major tourist attraction, solely to solar power a few months ago.
“We get so many millennials seeking an authentic experience,” she says.
About half of the Workshop Ko Kasi’s visitors are from South Africa, who usually come for a day. The rest are international travellers, who stay for longer periods.
Cornelius admits going back to Kuruman after living in the big city was a challenge but she wanted to make a difference in her hometown and instil a culture of entrepreneurship, showing people that small businesses can make a big difference.
She cites accessibility as a difficulty for Kuruman, as people “see it as being literally in the middle of nowhere”, despite the town being close to a national road, the N14. Only one airline uses the small airport, with about two flights per day.
Cornelius adds that finding skilled people in the remote Northern Cape to work at the ecotourism hub was not easy.“It needs to be competitive and stand its own compared to other destinations; we need to do triple the work,” Cornelius says.
With the ecotourism hub running successfully off the grid, she wants to spread the ecotourism concept to other provinces, which can localise their offerings in line with regional traditions and culture.