Africa Travel Week
Phakamile Hlazo

Behind the Mic with Phakamile Hlazo

One of the most inspiring women in travel, Phakamile Hlazo is the award-winning founder of two travel brands, Zulu Nomad and inAfrica Travel. She is also the co-Chair of the SATSA Access, Inclusivity and Diversity Committee (previously the SATSA Transformation Committee).

Phaka is a seasoned strategist and a hands-on operational lead with vast experience in the implementation of strategic change initiatives in Africa and Asia. Her consulting career has seen her work for clients including the World Bank Group, Stanlib, Telkom and ABSA. 

Phakamile believes that technology innovation is a necessary enabler for true transformation and inclusion in all tourism sectors, as such, Zulu Nomad is a social enterprise whose core purpose is to be an enabler to African tourism capacity and enterprise development at scale.

The inAfrica marketplace connects rural and urban providers of authentic, immersive African experiences with travellers from all walks of life and source market, whilst providing a powerful booking management system to African tour operators and hosts. 

The recipient of various awards and scholarships, Phaka was in April 2020 named one of the 100 Inspiring Women Founders in Travel by Travel Massive. In 2019 she was named one of the 200 Young South African’s in the Entrepreneurship category by the Mail and Guardian, and was named one of 25 Trailblazers in Tourism by the same publication.

In 2010, Phakamile was awarded a Chinese Government Scholarship, spending a year studying the Chinese language and economy in Shanghai, China. She subsequently spent 2 years living and working in Shanghai, kicking off her change management consulting career, whilst travelling extensively in Asia.  

Phaka completed her MSc International Business and Finance through a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship at De Montfort University (UK) in 2006. In 2005, Phaka was named one of the 100 Brightest Young Minds in South Africa. 

Zulu Nomad is an active member of the global Travel Massive community and collaborates on impact projects with startups in South Africa, Nigeria, and internationally. 

What are you hoping could ignite enthusiasm on what you’re going to speak about 

The future, both the immediate as well as the longer-term future of travel and tourism on the African continent. It’s a hugely exciting prospect for ‘possibilitarians’ like myself. 

What have you missed with regards to face-to-face contact in the events speaking space 

I have certainly missed being able to engage with many inspirational business owners and colleagues whom we have very limited engagement with during virtual events – we each know that the other is there but you don’t get a chance to chat about a particularly interesting topic over coffee or a meal.  

How did you come to do what you do, tell us a bit about your career advancement. 

I kicked off my 8-year strategic change management career in Shanghai, China in 2011. I returned home in 2014 and continued consulting in strategic program implementation, working largely with the financial institutions. By 2018, I was implementing digital transformation (automation) initiatives for my clients. While consulting, I had launched Zulu Nomad, and our curated experiences were a hit with the SA domestic market. In 2019 I started considering opportunities to scale Zulu Nomad digitally, we launched online courses to support micro-and-small tourism business owners in 2020, and in 2021 I launched inAfrica Travel.

My latest achievement is a certificate received from the Enpact Tourism Recovery Program for my expertise in Digitalization, after delivering training on this topic to the 80 participants on this program in November 2021.  

Based on your five senses, what are you looking forward to most at the show this year: 

  • See: The best of African tourism product 
  • Taste: The wonderful delicacies of our host city, Cape Town  
  • Feel: Joy at connecting in person with old and new friends 
  • Hear: Words of wisdom and inspiration from fantastic speakers 
  • Smell: Wine!  

What makes Africa Unique?  

Our spirit. I have had the privilege of living in the UK and in China, amongst people of all nationalities, the African spirit shines through no matter where we are in the world. The experiences that people from outside of the continent have when they visit us are just unmatched. 

What is the first thing you will do once you set foot in Cape Town?  

Find a Gatsby or some snoek 

Looking back as past events that you have been to, what business connection/relationship stands out that made it truly worthwhile.  

Business connections with startup founders who are innovating the tourism sector globally. Their enthusiasm for their solutions made me breathe a sigh of “I’m not crazy” because of their proven experience in travel technology in various markets.  

Tell us a story about a past event where something truly memorable happened (funny or serious).  

I met an older gentleman at the conference in Bangkok a few months ago, he’s from Israel but has lived in New York for decades, he runs one of the biggest transfer companies in the city. 

We started chatting during one of the networking dinners and I was riveted. He told me about the complete disruption of the taxi business in New York when Uber came along, how difficult the journey has been, how he’s had to innovate to keep up and how there have been some wins on Uber being subject to regulations like they are etc.

He also told me about his family life and how they foster a culture of travel in their kids, raising their kids in New York versus Israel. And also, about a $ 250 000 investment he made into his sons’ business. I learned so much from him in one evening. 

As he was talking, so many things were going through my mind, mostly just around the amazing life he and his wife have built for their family. As I walked back to my hotel, I couldn’t help but also think about my own father, also an entrepreneur with a thriving taxi business back in the day, one of the pioneers of the industry in KwaZulu Natal.

I thought of the life my father could have lived had he not been an entrepreneur in South Africa – in fact had we been in any other African country, let alone in New York, the violence in this country, and particularly the senseless killing in the taxi industry is uniquely South African. I also thought about just how much life he did live in his short 43 years (the man is a bit of a legend :). Needless to say, by the time I reached my room, I was all up in the feels.  

The next morning, I received the below note from Avik. Probably one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.   

“Hi, it was great seeing you and spending time knowing you yesterday – you need to know that your face projects success, keep it up” 

Find me at WTM Africa: 

Topic: The Power of Women in Travel 
Date: 13 April 2022, 12:30 – 13:15 
Stage: Global Stage 

Africa Travel Week

Africa Travel Week (ATW) focuses on inbound and outbound markets for general leisure tourism, luxury travel, LGBTQ+ travel and the MICE/business travel sector as well as travel technology. Shows include: ILTM Africa, WTM Africa, EQUAL Africa, ibtm AFRICA, Travel Forward, Sports & Events Tourism Exchange and African Tourism Investment Summit.