Africa Travel Week
Rob Hetem

Rob Hetem – Coach, entrepreneur, and board member of SATSA 

Rob has over 20 years of experience in the tourism industry, focusing on market development and business consulting. He is an accredited ICF coach, highly experienced entrepreneur, business leader and innovator with a passion for helping women and youth reach their leadership potential. He is also a board member of SATSA. He is recognised as an active industry protagonist and pioneer, having won multiple CEO Global awards for his outstanding contributions to the sector. 

As we emerge from Covid-19, one of the biggest challenges facing global tourism is a skills gap. We caught up with Rob to get his advice on how SMEs in tourism in South Africa can map a successful and sustainable future. Here’s what he had to say: 

Is South African tourism suffering from the same skills gap we see globally?   

Conversations with small and medium enterprises, business owners and managers are mostly anecdotal, so one of the biggest challenges is quantifying the nature and extent of this skills shortage. Objective measurement is difficult in an industry where knowledge, experience and soft skills are integral deliverables. However, looking at employment figures according to the pre-Covid employee numbers, it is clear that tourism has lost up to 80% or more of its skilled human assets in many segments. 

What are the most needed skills currently in tourism?

To narrow this down while creating a culture of sustainable development, we need good leadership and management skills. With strong, knowledgeable, experienced leaders, we create the opportunity to mentor, coach, and develop new and semi-skilled entrants to the profession and build an expandable core of increasingly skilled and experienced players. 

How do we encourage more youth to enter the tourism sector?  

Youth are the future of travel. To encourage their entry, commitment to and value in the tourism value chain, existing leaders and stakeholders must find ways to create space at the table for diversity and inclusivity of younger generations and the transfer of skills. 

What role can government play?  

If I had a magic wand, I would go “ching”, and the government would be forced to sit back and see the work the private sector is doing as tourism professionals. It would be better equipped to listen, learn and then work tirelessly, without distraction, fanfare or fuss, to create structure and policies that support tourism development, job creation, economic growth and poverty eradication. We need a government that leads by example in its diversification and involving youth in the decision-making process for the future of our industry.  

What makes the tourism sector great to work in?  

Almost all tourism stakeholders speak with pride and passion about how tourism pierces the soul and speaks to the heart of why people need people. I don’t know if there’s scientific proof, but I’m sure tourism produces dopamine! Seriously, the tourism value chain is so diverse, dynamic and welcoming that I support the strategy of SATSA’s Hearts and Minds campaign, which continues to spread the good news about success, growth and stability to attract young people, former workers and entrepreneurs to tourism. 

What challenges do small and emerging tourism enterprises face?  

Starting and running a small or emerging business is not for the faint of heart, but passion, vision and drive usually outweigh the downside of the effort, sacrifice and man-hours required. These challenges are normal and to be expected.  

What SMEs should not have to endure in addition are bureaucratic meddling, dysfunctional government departments and a lack of transparency and engagement on policy that adversely affects the business environment. Safety issues, permit debacles, onerous or obstructive visa processes, one-dimensional fiscal control measures, ham-fisted crisis management, unreliable services or utilities, and lacklustre destination promotion affect the growth and sustainability of tourism businesses daily. 

Your advice for SMEs going into 2023?   

Follow your dream! Stay focused and keep moving. In your vision and the motivation for creating your business lies the opportunity and freedom of self-determination. Entrepreneurs and the private sector create real jobs, so mobilise your communities. 

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.