Years ago, if you had visited the Johannesburg Holiday Inn, would you have expected the young woman behind the desk to have a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Technology? Probably not, but that’s just how Lindi Mthetha’s story begins.
Lindi describes herself simply as a “local girl,” who was “born and bred” in Johannesburg. And she didn’t journey far for school; Varsity College, where she earned a degree in Information Technology (IT), is in Sandton, only a 20-minute drive away. By the time that she’d finally finished her 3-year program, all of her peers were setting up internships and applying for their first jobs in the field. Lindi, on the other hand, landed in hospitality.
“I started my first job,” she remembers, “at [Holiday Inn] in the airport – starting off at front desk. Really starting right from the bottom and working my way up.” She progressed into event planning and administration, which took her to work at the Sandton Convention Centre. Lindi tells us that “from there, I got into sales. From sales, I never really looked back.” And – true to her word – Lindi is now working as the Group Sales Director for “BON Hotels.”
A Special Breed
“We remain very optimistic [despite the pandemic],” Lindi says of her colleagues in tourism. An unconscious smile creeps into her features, and a gleam into her eye; it’s clear how deeply she values the unspoken kinship which employees in tourism share. “We are very passionate. We are fighters.”
Tourism employees are generally, to Lindi’s mind, “tenacious people” who like to “feel and touch, and bond with each other.” But the COVID-19 pandemic has entirely changed the way that tourism businesses run. The future of tourism is being decided, as Lindi describes, over webinars and email.
She has two nuggets of practical advice for others who are trying to keep their career in tourism alive – especially during such a hectic time as a quarantine.
First: take online courses. Lindi sees quarantine as a perfect opportunity to update your skills and knowledge base; “it’s really important for you to equip yourself with information that’s readily available.” She suggests looking into your local organizations, who may be involved with projects in your province, or even nationally.
Second: stay connected. The social networks that we usually take for granted – like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram – have become a blessing to tourism and its employees, Lindi says. “Keep connected with the industry news. You’ve got to be informed. You’ve got to know what is happening – and how you can seize opportunities!”
She explains that, since such a large percentage of the industry is working from home, discussions about the future of tourism might be viewable from your couch as a webinar. These talks are about “driving the industry, preparing the industry, and discussing recovery plans.” Lindi views staying informed as absolutely critical, because “[we need to be] ready for when we come out of lockdown and our businesses start to operate.”
The “New Normal”
It was recently announced that South Africa will reopen interprovincial travel for leisure. Though it will be a “long road to recovery,” Lindi takes small victories such as this one to fuel her hope and optimism for the future. “This will open up opportunities for lodges which have been closed up until now,” she says.
For a while, Lindi is confident that South Africa will depend on domestic travel “for the foreseeable future. I don’t expect international travel to pick up until March, possibly, of 2021. We are still hoping that the international borders pick up quicker, but right now our focus is on local tourism. …There’s still a long road ahead of us, but there’s a light, now, at the end of the tunnel.”
Lindi appeals to the heart of her audience, calling for a positive outlook for the future, and sympathy in our dealings with one another. “We have to focus on recovery,” she insists. “Right now, it is time to adapt. In these COVID times, things have changed so much. We need to move on to the new normal.” It’s no surprise that the quarantine conditions have led to a lot of interpersonal conflict, but Lindi insists that people are doing more harm than good by fighting.
For the tourism industry, “the more that [tourism employees] are divided, and fighting amongst each other, that’s when we don’t get support from our government. The government plays a very important role in our recovery plan.”
In local communities, Lindi explains that tourism organizations used to be able to provide aid. Now that they can’t, she says; “we are relying on local people and local communities to give back to their own. This is when we need to stand together united, and fight for the recovery of this industry.”
Despite the hard work ahead of her, Lindi prefers to focus on the way that the quarantine has left a positive mark on her life. She speaks eagerly of the way that working from home has forced her industry to adapt to technology so quickly. And with so many citizens cooped up at home, she feels that people everywhere have “learned to appreciate life.”
If the world could take one thing away from this quarantine into the “new normal,” Lindi hopes it will be that “there’s always room for improvement, change, adaption, and innovation. People have come up with very innovative ways to provide services: the hotels are closed, so they’ve sent their handymen to work in the communities. When housekeepers can no longer work in the hotels, they have done laundry for the locals. …One thing that we’ve shown, as an industry, is that we can persevere. It’s just been incredible to watch the change.”
Lindi Mthetha spoke to. View their #IAmTourism conversation here. Profile written by Gabrielle Huston.