Meet Lisa Martus, the owner of Love Limpopo, who fell so in love with the people, culture and diversity of Limpopo, she decided to share that love with the rest of the world.
Lisa’s own “love story” with the province has spanned 20 years. After meeting her husband and moving to the ‘bush’, Manyeleti Game Reserve to be precise, Lisa got her first taste of Limpopo and, of course, tourism.
“I never left,” she says, admitting her captivation for the people and landmarks of her adopted home. More than that, it’s become her passion.
And you can see that passion and love Lisa has for the province and its tourism people. Battling tears, she shares how so many businesses that have been going for many years have been forced to close down. “The great sadness, in this pandemic, is that tourism in Limpopo has been brought to its knees.”
“Limpopo is like a forgotten province. There are so many people who have incredible stories, expertise and innovation to share. They’re making a huge difference in the world of tourism. And, apart from the incredible spaces, and the diversity within Limpopo, it’s the people that make all the difference,” explains Lisa.
Love Limpopo, she says, creates a space that brings that to life and can be enjoyed by all cultures and backgrounds.
Tourism is about connection
For Lisa, tourism is all about connection, particularly cultural connection. “It provides a stillness at that moment. When you are out in the bush and all that you can hear is your own heartbeat, the whispers from the gods bring you close to that moment of connection with the lion, with a dung beetle or whatever it may be.”
“We have found ways to connect travellers, responsible travellers, to incredible spaces that they wouldn’t normally have, giving them access to authentic, immersive cultural experiences, wildlife experiences and, of course, the inspiring people that are part of the fabric of Limpopo.”
It’s those moments, captured through a tourist experience, which speaks to the heart of travellers and changes them forever. “That is what we are looking to promote via Love Limpopo. It’s those moments, those magic moments, where you’re not just a traveller; you’re not just a visitor.”
Lisa paints the picture of a favourite tourist experience in Limpopo with the same artistry as the potters who are at the heart of it. “Tourism is a portal. It takes you to a whole new space and is something that transforms you,” she explains, highlighting the experience of creating a beautiful traditional clay pot at the feet of Ma Flora Rondela of the Mukondeni Potter Village near Elim. “You’re getting to grips with the Venda culture that she is so proud of and learning a skill like traditional pot making which you would never have had the opportunity to do before.”
Lisa explains the integrated benefits of tourism on the lives of tourists and of the communities that host them. “We have the opportunity to learn and grow with every relationship that we develop. Every visitor, every traveller brings their own context and insights. As a community, a global community, we learn and grow from each other. I am because you are. That is the kind of fabric we should and can weave because of tourism.”
The youth, in particular, can transform their lives and find their worth as individuals through tourism. “Anybody can be part of the tourism landscape and find their value and worth in their interactions with others.”
Tourism is essential
Tourism is “absolutely crucial” for communities due to its opportunities for transformation and connection – two essential elements of tourism that allow the industry to have so much impact, explains Lisa.
“For the communities with whom we work, these are areas that are traditionally not tourism rich. And yet, tourism has managed to transform these communities into a space where visitors would like to come as a destination, not just passing through.”
Tourism’s impact transcends bringing revenue to individuals, their families and communities in ways few other industries manage to do. Lisa explains how interacting with visitors also sparks a feeling of self-worth, pride and entrepreneurship. “People start seeing opportunities for traditional food making, homestays, sharing culture in ways in which you would never have imagined within your own communities.”
I am, because you are
Despite the difficulty of seeing her business close due to the pandemic, Lisa remains inspired by the resilience of tourism businesses and their willingness to collaborate, break down the bonds of a siloed approach and help each other through this difficult time.
“Jackson Hlungwani, the father of Ribola Art Route and one of the most famous artists in the country, used to say that at some stage the female energy is going to come through.
“That, we are going to realise that we need nurturing, that we need to be collaborative. And, that we need to really engage with nurturing ourselves, each other, the earth, the planet, and find ways to collaborate instead of being competitive.”
Jackson’s words ring in her ears at this time because of how the pandemic has brought people together to help each other out. “There has been this thread of compassion and collaboration throughout the tourism space. And there have been people who have made it possible for us to connect with each other across the distance.
“There have been people who have stepped into this space and said ‘I’m giving you my hand. Let’s embark on this journey together, as we have all been affected by this pandemic and what is currently going in our world, our country’.” For Lisa, this is what has made all the difference.
To women in tourism
Lisa points out that tourism provides any woman and particularly young women with an opportunity for equality. “There are a lot of industries that are still very patriarchal in nature and tourism is a space where you can start from anywhere and become anything. There is such hope for young women particularly to just to stand up and say ‘I am tourism’.”
“Anyone that is looking for a possible career in tourism or that is already in the industry, that the opportunities are endless for them.”
Once tourism is back on its feet again, the new normal is going to offer so many opportunities for people to find their passion and their purpose, stepping into a whole new space. ” The new responsible traveller is going to be looking for people who feel that passion and pride and are willing to share it with the world.”
Lisa Martus spoke to Natalia Rosa, and you can find their #IAmTourism conversation here.