LTA CEO’s Gratitude to Limpopo as she bids Province Farewell
AT no point in time has a farewell being so emotionally touchy-feely like the bidding of goodbye to Limpopo Tourism Agency’s (LTA) Chief Executive Officer, Nomasonto Ndlovu. This end of tenure heralds the coming down of the curtain – brining an atmosphere of mixed feelings within the corridors authority at LTA and the provincial tourism sector. A trawl through newspaper clippings, a look at the videos and conversation with the departing CEO confirm that her achievements as a black woman were much more of feats than just miracles. Reliving some of those memories during a recent interview with Discover Limpopo Magazine (DL), Ndlovu was overwhelmed by emotions.
As she bows, Ndlovu cites one of her favourite African proverbs is from Limpopo “Mintirho ya vula vula”. “I truly believe my work should speak for me. Let us allow the people of Limpopo answer that question and give their feedback” Ndlovu said as she takes us through her journey.
DL: Please take us through the three-year journey you have navigated since the day you assumed the reigns as LTA CEO
SN: It has been a great experience indeed. I must admit that the first time I came to Limpopo, I did not know what to expect but I had the belief that we would conquer and emerge victorious in the marketing journey to make Limpopo an iconic destination which everyone would feel incomplete without its experience. I remember assuring the Board and staff alike that we together should strive for taking Limpopo from good to great, however that required the commitment of everybody in the organisation. It was not an easy journey but with the support of everybody including political leadership provided by both former and present Members of Executive Council (MEC’s), Messrs Seaparo Sekoati and Thabo Mokone respectively, we were able to put Limpopo on the world pedestal. I am grateful that as I come to the end of my term, the organisation is still intact with three consecutive years of unqualified audit opinion from the Auditor General.
DL: How did the people of Limpopo receive you after your appointment?
SN: It was quite an overwhelmingly positive experience – Limpopians welcomed me with warm hearts and open arms. I was humbled by the way they just embraced me as one of their own, always willing to share local stories and were very patient with, especially when I didn’t understand the language. I immediately fell in love with the place, the people, the culture, the food, and felt completely at home. I can see myself retire in Limpopo.
DL: In a nutshell, how is the province of Limpopo from a tourism perspective – the tourism attractions that stood out for you, its people and their diverse cultures?
SN: Limpopo is honestly a great destination with so much to offer. This is a destination that always invites one to come for more as one will never be satisfied with what one has done for the duration of stay in the province. The pay off line, ‘More to enjoy’ is clearly proportionate with so much on offer and that is why the province was named the top visited destination in respect of domestic tourism for three consecutive years since 2016 to 2019. The province has for over four years in a row been the second most visited by international tourists after Gauteng. But I must admit I have a weakness for Mapungubwe National Park, I can sit for days at the confluence enjoying the sunset views.
DL: After assuming your role, you promised the people of Limpopo that you will take their province to greater heights, did you achieve that? (Did you manage to contribute to the National 5-in-5 tourism target, package and promote niches like agri-tourism, business tourism, religious tourism, sport tourism and wildlife offerings?)
SN: One will never be satisfied with one’s achievements but without blowing my own trumpet, the milestones we have been able to achieve, speak volumes about our work as an entity. I know I was pushing my team so much but that paid dividends. One thing that worked for all of us as a team is my attitude of perfectionism. My team already understood that as a perfectionist, I was not easy to please and that pushed them to high levels of perfection as well. My stay in the province has been an exciting one with a plethora of activities that sought to move this beautiful Province from good to great and a leading destination. The activities and events LTA participated in are a key driver of droves of people to destination Limpopo. We indeed managed to push Limpopo to greater heights.
It is a fact that the tourism industry is growing faster than most other economic sectors and contributes to one out of eleven jobs created worldwide. This is of course when things are normal without Covid-19. To tap into this advantage of growth, government committed to increasing the number of tourists through the implementation of the 5 in 5 strategy that aimed to receive 5 million tourists in 5 years. This five year strategy introduced by the South African Tourism (SAT) in 2018 was also aimed at doubling the current 3% contribution to the total national GDP. LTA was able to achieve its targets set out in the 5-in-5 strategy. LTA partnered with stakeholders in the sports fraternity as part of implementing a sports tourism marketing approach. These partners include Cycling South Africa, which helped bring Tour de Limpopo, the first international UCI Africa Tour 2.2 stage race hosted in the country; partnership with PSL clubs in the province and partnership with Sunshine Tour that also introduced Limpopo Championship, the first international golf tournament in the province. We collaborated with so many other stakeholders in the province as we realised that events are a major driver of people from one place to the other.
Our efforts of bidding for medium to mega events paid off when Limpopo was granted an opportunity to host International Fellowship Evangelical Students (IFES) World Assembly in 2019. That was seen as an opportunity to showcase the province’s offerings as a business tourism and conferencing destination. It will be critical to introduce an official Conventions& Events Bureau in the province as this will assist to bid for major business events like association and corporate conferences.
We remain focused on supporting the Business Events industry in order to ensure that many of these events come to our Province as part of implementing our destination marketing strategy. This will fortify Limpopo’s Business Events positioning and further demonstrate that this destination has the required capacity and capability to host events of this magnitude. This we do in line with our vision to position Limpopo as a leading tourism destination in Southern Africa. Had it not been for COVID-19, we would have hosted other events in the province.
There are other opportunities that I regard to as low hanging fruits in the province such as Agri-tourism, gastronomic tourism and harnessing religious tourism. The province is regarded as the fruit and vegetable basket of the country. For example with agriculture, if well exposed can be a big boom for tourism in the province with Mopani and Vhembe regions leading in their respective agricultural products. The other area that has not optimally been taken advantage of is religious tourism with pilgrimage of members of the big churches found in the province.
Limpopo is renowned for its mega conservation comprising three national parks namely, Kruger, Mapungubwe and Marakele National Parks. The province also boasts over forty Provincial Nature Reserves, municipal parks as well as private game reserves that people can visit. The three national parks are on top of the list on the promotion of mega conservation as one of our marketing positioning.
DL: Please outline all your initiatives and the impact they brought to the province
SN: There were many initiatives that we embarked on in our efforts to raise the brand awareness for Limpopo. Some included:
– Impactful Limpopo showcase at Africa’s Travel Indaba 2018, 2019 winning Silver and Gold at the Green Stand awards – done under the “Limpopo Pavillion”
– Limpopo has been leading the domestic market being the most visited and second most visited on international arrivals
– Hosting of international conferences
– Two new strategic events introduced as part of a sports tourism approach to our destination marketing approach; Tour de Limpopo (international cycle tour and Limpopo golf Championship
– Achieved unqualified audit opinion for 2017/18, 2018/19, 2019/20 financial years
– Recently nominated in 3 categories at the Standard Bank Tow Women awards and winning in the tourism sector category
– Increased brand visibility across various media platforms,
But the most important and most impactful initiative has to be increasing our digital presence and making Limpopo the most wanted holiday and turning Limpopo into a “must-visit” destination in South Africa, which made it on many South African’s bucket lists.
DL: Please elaborate your modus operandi in trying to ensure that Limpopo becomes a tourism destination?
SN: When I realised I didn’t have a decent marketing budget to do the kinds of marketing campaigns I was used to, it became clear that I needed a different tact. We opted for “word of mouth” and it worked like a charm. Letting people experience the beauty of our province and tell others about it, using digital platforms proved to be a winning formula. The partnership approach especially with private sector on lifestyle events has also worked very well allowing us to stretch the budget.
DL: You once mentioned that you inherited a dedicated team of hardworking men and women, how was staff morale under you stewardship?
SN: When you take over a new team, it’s always not easy. However, despite all the challenges that LTA had in the past, the team I found was a group people who just love Limpopo, passionate and willing to learn. I certainly worked very with the LTA team. They have been able to interpret my vision and bring it to life. They also taught me a lot about the province which came in very handy. I will certainly miss them a lot.
I came up with some crazy ideas, we fought about these but in the end they were always able to listen and interpret the idea in a way that made sense and make them workable, and for that support I am truly grateful.
DL: Please tell us you highs and lows since Day One?
SN: They say “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”, and it’s exactly how I felt throughout my journey in Limpopo over the three years. I have been on a permanent high, every new challenge and task taught me some something. The destination experience, the culture and the industry people I worked with certainly make me feel on a high daily. Perhaps the only lows are the frustrations when it comes to remembering that we work in a very bureaucratic set-up and sometimes we lost great opportunities due to elongated processes and lack of agility in our environment
DL: For someone who has been an integral part of the province’s tourism sector, where to do see this province in the next foreseeable future?
SN: Limpopo’s tourism sector is set for great things. I am excited to sit with many tourism players even now after Covid-19 and hear how optimistic and determined they are. We have done a lot of work in the past three years and have laid a solid foundation in terms of creating brand awareness and positivity for the destination. I would still like to see the youth in tourism becoming more participative in the industry and coming up with innovative ideas to create more experiences in Limpopo.
DL: What is advice will you share to the tourism sector to ensure that this province remains a preferred tourism destination and have more offerings to enjoy?
SN: The sector has suffered a lot following the pandemic, but it is critical to look for opportunities emanating from the Covid-19 pandemic. I would further recommend that in order to remain focussed, and ensure the destination continues to grow our tourism numbers and build the brand domestically and internationally team Limpopo must implement effective and meaningful partnerships. I would also like to see more cross-pollination between regions, and between Limpopo and other provinces.
DL: You once mentioned that you inherited a dedicated team of hardworking men and women, how was staff morale under you stewardship?
SN: I was indeed fortunate to have inherited an already oiled machine as it was easy to work with the team that knew what was expected of the entity. The staff morale was high but they also had their own expectations as employees but that never had a negative impact on the work at hand. I had a very pleasant stay in this province and for that, I would like to thank all the LTA team for the amount of support they gave me to make this province a destination of choice.
DL: Plan after completing the term?
SN: The down-side of my work was that I could not spend time with my kids as I was always busy, criss-crossing the province or travelling abroad. The recent lockdowns made me realise just how I had missed my kids and how much they have missed spending time with me. So, ideally I would like to take some time out before considering any options, but only time will tell. But I am currently looking a few options.