Meet Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo, the current Chief Operating Officer of City Lodge Hotel Group, board member of South African Tourism & Chair of the Tourism B-BBEE Charter Council.
With an impressive career in the hospitality industry that spans 30 years, it’s interesting to note that when she was younger, her parents would have preferred that she go the medical route instead.
Her hospitality journey
“It was probably the glamour of the hotel industry had always attracted me,” she explains. “I studied and obtained a diploma in hotel management in Switzerland, then continued studying in America at university where I received a Bachelor of Science in Hotel Management.”
After a stint at the Hyatt Group in America, she started working in South Africa at the Rosebank Hotel, and seven years later she went into government for a year, at the Department of Tourism, where she was Chief Director for Tourism Support. “I discovered that I am not cut to be a public servant, so I started my own business – a conference centre and hotel in Soweto,” she adds.
After the World Cup and with her Soweto hotel still running, she took up a position at Birchwood as the Managing Director. “This was a big set up, about 660 rooms and lots of conferencing, and then after that, five years ago, I joined the City Lodge Hotel group.”
Tourism in South Africa during Covid-19
Speaking on the importance of tourism, Lindiwe asks that we remember where the industry was before Covid-19.
“It was an import contributor to the GDP of this country and supports so many other industries and indirect jobs; fishing, retail and manufacturing are just some of the industries depending on tourism. We need to remember all the other industries dependent on us, and in fact, it was expected that 21 million tourists would visit South Africa by 2030.”
She also emphasises the current need to work together and to promote domestic tourism now more than ever. “In South Africa, if you have the money you can easily go on vacation abroad, and there is a set idea to go somewhere, but now, many individuals are stuck where they live. This highlights the fact that we need to appeal to the domestic market and make sure our local products are accessible to everyone in South Africa.”
Lindiwe also highlights trust and price as being two important factors looking ahead. “We need to aim for value for money. We need to justify costs and a reason why people should consider a local vacation.”
And as for what to expect over the next few years she explains that “We have lost a lot along the way but in three to five years, tourism will be in a far more exciting space that we are currently in.” As someone who is inspired by change, she maintains that she has found her voice through the whole experience of lockdown. “I’m thriving in this,” she says. “We can’t be complacent. We must be flexible and dare to think creatively.”
The livelihoods of women in the tourism industry
Over the past few weeks, she has also discovered a new set of challenges that woman face – some may have supporting husbands but for many, it has become a “single parenthood within marriage”, with very little support from their spouse, particularly with the kids at home needing help with schoolwork.
Throughout the lockdown period, Lindiwe (a mother herself) has been reaching out to young women in the tourism industry. “Their struggles have been around doubting if they chose the right career,” she explains. “The Covid-19 experience highlights the fact that women cannot survive on one job, especially if they relied on only one job to support all of their needs.”
She maintains that Covid-19 is not going away, and women need to be dynamic. “They need to be open to doing other jobs no matter how menial they seem, such as planting vegetables for home use and sale, selling toilet paper, making food and delivering it.”
Lindiwe also places strong emphasis on women paying attention to mental and physical health. “Exercise is important,” she says. “In my own case, I go for short walks. It’s important to find something to do for yourself even if you have to wake up earlier to do this – stretch your time to fit it in.”
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