Grace Sibara was born and bred in Soweto but has based herself in the Limpopo Province since 1982. A teacher by profession, she resigned after 20 years to focus on and grow her guest house business which today consists of Hayani Manor Guest House in Polokwane and Hayani Manor, situated in the beautiful village of Hamangilasi.
To describe her as one busy woman is putting it lightly. Not only is she is the Head of the Women in Tourism Limpopo chapter but also holds the position of Deputy Chair of the Limpopo Provincial Tourism Forum.
Setting up her own business
In thinking about her journey within the tourism industry, Grace explains that she was destined to enter the sector at a very young age without even ealising it. “My mom used to say that I loved people as a child. I loved interacting with them and learning about new cultures, so when I look back I can say to myself that I’ve actually been in tourism for a very long time, and not just when I stopped teaching.”
In establishing her first business Grace explains that she made the decision to turn her home into a guest house when her husband and kids went to Pretoria for work. “I was looking for a job myself when I first thought about converting the unused rooms in my house. I used to have people over all the time to talk, to eat, and to dance and I realised that entertaining and hosting people was what I was good at.”
While embarking on her mission to establish her guest house, she did as much research as possible. “I asked around at other accommodation establishments for advice and many people told me that I would not make it, that guests wouldn’t come, but I went to one guest house in particular and there was an old white lady who asked me to come in and watch what she was doing, and to observe what the job entailed and that is when I knew that this was what I want!”
After completing an online course with the Sunday Times and learning all the nitty-gritty about running a business, Grace was able to grow her guest house, starting out with three rooms, then five rooms a year later, and seven rooms the year after that.
“Eventually, I realised I needed to be more innovative and looked for a bigger place with conference facilities. That’s how we established Hayani Guest House, with 20 guest rooms and conference facilities that could accommodate up to 500 people,” she adds.
On the importance of tourism
“When I sleep, I sleep tourism, when I wake, I do tourism. I always say that tourism is everybody’s business. It’s important to me as and it’s important to my family. It’s also important to my community and the whole country,” says grace.
“I know that if my guests come in, they not just coming to me, they need to experience what is happening around them, which is where the community comes in. Visitors need to go out and experience and buy arts and crafts, so tourism is important to many other people. Everyone is part of it and we need to remember to collaborate together.”
In encouraging other women who are struggling right now in the industry, Grace says this:
“Yes, most of us are stressed and demotivated because there is no tourism but let us try to adjust. We need to learn to adapt to what is happening now because it’s not just in South Africa. It is the whole world, and we need to learn to live with Covid-19. We need to stand up and do what we can to sustain ourselves. Ladies, you cannot work alone. Remember to reach out and collaborate with other women. Join more associations like SATSA or look into the various Women in Tourism chapters.”
She maintains that her greatest hope after the travel restrictions lift is that we have leant as much as we can from this experience, adding that the lockdown and the pandemic is an opportunity for us to be innovative and think outside of the box.
“We must think about what else we can do and what other services we can provide. We must not use this time to just sit and relax and wait for tourism to open up. I am hopeful that at the end of the day we will see the light,” she concludes.