Nwabisa Dumeduze often vacationed with her father when she was a young girl. As a travel writer, he was there to review the services and ambience, but she had an important task too: give him the “child’s perspective” of each destination. “He would create something magical” by the end, Nwabisa recalls dreamily. This love of tourism that her father stoked in her from a young age continued to grow, even after his passing.
Inspired by him, Nwabisa went on to study tourism at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Her program involved 2 years of study, and a 6-month internship. “Before you graduate,” she says, “you get a broader perspective. It’s not just the books; it’s also getting to go somewhere and get the experience so you can decide ‘yes, I really like this!’ or ‘no, this is not for me.”
Many of her peers entered their degree uncertain which facet of tourism they wanted to pursue and pinpointed something during their internships. Nwabisa, though, already had an inkling. On vacations with her father, her younger self had always “wanted to know how to design an itinerary, and what goes into that process.” So, as she learned more about the moving cogs of the industry, Nwabisa became sure that she wanted to work in “Tour Operation.” An eager grin grows on her face as she describes what Tour Operation involves; namely “designing itineraries [and] selling destinations.”
Improvise, Adapt, Overcome: South Africa Under Lockdown
Nwabisa started with a small company – Timeless Africa Safaris – before the pandemic struck. She feels fortunate not to have lost her job, but she does work from home now. “I’m very fortunate,” Nwabisa clarifies. “I know a lot of companies that have had to close down. I know that a lot of my friends that graduated with me in 2018 do not have any jobs right now.”
Timeless Africa Safaris has adapted well to the pandemic, “because we’re a small company,” Nwabisa explains, and “it’s easy for us to adjust.” In fact, they had already been working from home for a week to see if they would “be able to cope,” when the South African president announced lockdown.
Nwabisa’s tone turns disappointed as she discusses the clients who’ve had to cancel their trips because of COVID19. She carries a somber understanding, however, that they were “very fortunate not to have any clients stuck in the country because of the lockdown.”
Nwabisa won’t give up without a fight: “Right now in the company, we’re still trying to design those itineraries, and sending out newsletters, saying ‘You know what? After COVID is done, we’ll still be here. We’ll still be able to plan your next trip. Let’s not focus on 2020. Let’s try looking forward to 2021.’”
The Defense for Tourism in a Mid-Pandemic Society
Nwabisa won’t allow anyone to tell her that holidays are a frivolous expense during this crisis.
“Tourism contributes so much money to the economy,” she insists, as the “number 2 contributor to South Africa’s GDP, after the mining industry.” Bewildered, Nwabisa asks “why you would want to
close up an industry that creates job opportunities for so many people? The tourism industry is not only focused on one thing.” South Africans who work in hospitality and transportation are a few of her examples of where tourism generates jobs and revenue.
She posits that these jobs are just as important for individuals as they are for the economy. Nwabisa’s warm heart empathizes with those who have gone without work during the pandemic; “It makes no sense not to be able to do something. To sit at home and not be able to contribute someway, somehow… it’s not a nice feeling.”
Her compassion continues to warm hearts as she reminds us that it’s “not just about tourism’s contribution to [South Africa’s] GDP… The tourism industry offers you the intimacy of meeting new people, trying new cuisines, exploring new destinations!” Nwabisa argues that, in this way, tourism “is basically a human need… Lockdown has been going on for 6 months now, and let’s be honest: we all want to travel! We want to get out! We’re so tired of not being able to interact with people – like give them a hug! … That’s the most beautiful thing about [travel]: it can help you mentally, physically, and emotionally.”
Beyond leisure and mental health, Nwabisa insists that “so many things connect the whole [tourism] industry.” When deciding its import, she asks us to consider religious groups who may want to travel for annual events or rituals and won’t be able to, or sick people who need to go to specialized health facilities in another part of Africa- but can’t.
Nwabisa remains unphased and optimistic about her industry’s chances, despite the circumstances. “Right now, it’s hard. But eventually, we will all need trips. In 6 months, everyone will be saying they definitely want to travel somewhere.” She reminds us: that travel doesn’t need to involve a boat or a plane. “Let’s be allowed to travel interprovincially. Let’s not focus so much on people from outside; lets just focus on our country right now.”
Here’s to the Future
To keep herself and her loved ones sane, Nwabisa focuses on positivity and prayer.
She reminds her friends who work in tourism to pray for themselves, for the sick, and for their industry. “This will be over. This pandemic is not going to last forever. If you can keep yourself that way and be positive… it’s the only way to survive. Right now, focus on doing some activity that you’ve never done before. Learn cooking or do exercises! Focus on your wellbeing. Don’t focus too much on the industry- because you will go insane.”
Her friends have managed to stay positive, Nwabisa says, and she attributes this to the fact that she and her friends “are all in the [tourism] industry because we love it!” She fondly recalls a former professor who “used to say, ‘If you want to be rich, don’t go into the tourism industry!’” With a hearty laugh and a mischievous grin, Nwabisa declares, “You get into the tourism industry for the love of it! That’s it!” Her friends and she ground themselves with that love of travel in their moments of doubt; “Right now, we are suffering, yes. But the industry will be open. Just be hopeful.”
Nwabisa speaks passionately of social media as a platform for women in tourism to speak out, in the meantime. “Even if” the voices of young people, especially young women, “haven’t been heard in the past,” she insists now is the time. “As young people, we’re feeling demotivated at the moment. But there are so many hashtags [supporting tourism in South Africa]. …we’re able to use our TikTok, our Instagram, our Snapchat- every social media platform we have. It’s the only place we need to be communicating so that our voices can be heard.”
She challenges the young people to ask the hard questions: “if you can open up the taxis in the streets and you can allow fifteen people to be in a taxi, why can’t six people be sitting in a Safari vehicle?” Even people who don’t use the same social media platforms will see them if they make enough noise, Nwabisa believes, since posts are often screenshotted and shared through messaging apps or over to other platforms. “The only thing we can do as young South Africans is to speak out and make our voices heard. Right now is the best time for us to be talking and sharing our opinions.”
Nwabisa Dumedze spoke to Natalia Rosa, view their #IAmTourism conversation here. Profile written by Gabrielle Huston.