Ever curious, Dr Nomvuselelo (Mvusy) Songelwa’s passion for people, exploring, learning and discovering new places has taken her from the halls of academia to our national parks, and from environmental education and conservation to tourism.
Today she heads up Jurni, a private-public partnership using data to provide insights into South Africa’s tourism industry – and to connect people with authentic South African experiences and spaces. An important role, especially in the wake of COVID-19.
As Jurni’s CEO, Mvusy is a champion of the underdog, keen to see rural communities thrive, committed to transformation as well as using credible data to inform and underpin tourism efforts in South Africa:
“We are trying to put together a data hub that will provide these insights, so we’re able to convey a convincing message to decision-makers about the impact of Tourism. And that’s how we are going to really add value in the tourism industry.”
For Mvusy, tourism is so much more than ‘inbound’ or ‘outbound’ tourism, it’s transversal.
“We’ve got sports tourism. We’ve got religious tourism, medical tourism, edutourism. Events and conferences and cultural tourism is all part of the mix. But if you’re really looking at the value chain, you can imagine how many jobs are created out of tourism – including small ‘mama and dada’ vendors at stadiums, they are actually generating income that’s creating employment. And what’s happening is that they are feeding their own children, they are educating their own children … and that is how tourism is contributing to the country.”
Never one to shy from challenging situations (or times), Mvusy loves connecting and engaging with people through tourism, highlighting not only South Africans’ innate hospitality, but their rich culture and welcoming nature:
“Tourism should be taken seriously. All of us know that tourism is the heartbeat of any country. In South Africa it is our selling point. How we welcome people from all over the world to our shores – and we know that we have richness in our culture, in our heritage.”
It’s a time for hope, collaboration and resilience
Mvusy hopes that the industry learns from past mistakes and works together in order to make South Africa a better place for us all to live – and a country to be proud of.
“We really need to collaborate more, whether we are a large player, an established player or a small player in the tourism industry … we really need to write a pioneering story of our land and let other nations learn from how we have recovered.”
And for Mvusy, beyond our rich history and celebrated hospitality, it is our resilience that will carry us through:
“If you think of Knysna, and remember the fires in Knysna, everybody was up in arms and incredibly sad about what happened. But we emerged out of adversity and there were opportunities that we created. And this is what we need to do. Yes, there are things that we cannot control. But we need to take the lead. Lead by example and show our customers that they are in safe hands when they travel to South Africa.”
Selling ‘travel safe’ experiences is now of paramount importance to Mvusy. She just hopes that business owners have the “courage to take that opportunity and march forward”, because in her words, when we reach out and strengthen relationships, not only as the tourism industry, but as individuals, “we can rise as a collective.”
And a time to use the power within us
While Mvusy acknowledges that COVID has been devastating emotionally, financially and spiritually (even physically in terms of gender-based violence) for South African women, she knows that we are stronger that we imagine:
“We need to step out of denial and accept that today or tomorrow something is going to happen again that is unplanned and devastating. There’s nothing we can do about it. This is life. Life is about managing the pain personally, professionally or politically. But realise that this is the time for us to use the power within us. We have the power that propelled us to do what we are doing. If you have a small business, or if you had a big company, there is a passion within you that propelled you to start up that business.”
For Mvusy women have always been pillars of strength: “There’s no amount of relief funds, no amount of words, no grandstanding in podiums that will give us back the power that we have. This is the time to emerge even stronger than you were before – let’s march on.”