After 21 years in the industry, Tersia Swart cannot remember life before tourism. Now the Financial Manager of BON Hotel Bloemfontein Central, Tersia arrived in Bloemfontein as a student and never left. She has two decades in the hotel industry with BON Hotels under her belt – and it’s become a family affair.
Tersia’s son started working in the hotel’s kitchen during his school holidays, and, in her words, the gogga just bit: “He found his passion in the kitchens and today he is a chef”.
COVID’s double whammy
Of course, this means COVID-19 has dealt a double blow, with both mother and son anxious to get back to normality.
“The pandemic has hit our household twice. My son is twenty years old and now unemployed. He was born into this industry; he knows nothing else. But I don’t see us moving out of this industry. I don’t want to move out of this industry. We don’t know what the future holds, but we’re clinging onto this for as long as possible, because this is where our heart is.”
For Tersia, the majority of her colleagues feel the same.
“When I read our team’s WhatsApp messages, they say things like, ‘When can I see my family again?’ We are a family. This is a ‘people’s’ industry – you work with a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds and we are all passionate about tourism.”
What is tourism?
BON Hotel Bloemfontein Central is, in the main, a conference and events hotel. For Tersia, it shows how broad the tourism spectrum is (for example, accommodation, MICE, catering, food and beverage, transport, excursions, souvenirs and entertainment, operators and agents etc.) and how far-reaching the impact and effects of the lockdown will be.
“We deliver services. We deliver to the country’s GDP. Hotels are not just ‘social’ places (with everything ‘social’ being blocked at the moment), we are places of business, and like any business we need to generate revenue. We’ve got expenses just like any other business and we’ve also got staff just like any other business.”
She says at the moment, tourism is being let down.
“This will have significant consequences. More than we might even know. There are some small establishments in this sector may never be able to stand up from this again. Some may need to close their doors or have already closed their doors because of what is currently going on. But tourism gives life to so many people in this country, and if we don’t have tourism, we don’t have life.”
A message to women in tourism
According to Tersia, it’s difficult to tell women in the industry to ‘’vasbyt until something happens”. Many women don’t have the luxury of choice or time. Tourism is livelihoods – people need to start earning a living and for some it is about survival, bottom line.
When asked what her advice would be to women in the industry, Tersia’s message was simple:
“BON Hotel Bloemfontein Central is 80% women. We are running this hotel. Not only can we do it, we ARE doing it. So:
Believe that you can make a difference.
Believe that you have made a difference.
Believe that you will make a difference once more.”
Tersia’s warmth and humour shines through when she references a noticeboard message she recently saw:
This too shall pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.
“Honestly, try and keep the faith. If all else fails, we as women need to talk to each other. Share information. Support each other, you don’t need to feel alone.”
A message to our minister
When asked what her message to Tourism Minister, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane would be, Tersia’s reply was unequivocal: Give us a chance to prove ourselves.
“Give us a chance, like any other industry. We are ready. We are able. We are willing. Give us a chance to make ends meet. Give us a chance to make a livelihood. We want to, the only thing stopping us right now is the legislation. At least give us the chance, that is all we ask.”
According to Tersia, the majority of the industry is geared and ready for business travel as well as leisure tourism:
“There are people that have the finances to travel. They work hard, they want to travel, and we want to welcome them. Let us. It will save households, save businesses and save employment. We need to fight!”
Tersia Swart spoke to Danielle Taute, view their #IAmTourism conversation here.