Penny Lotz has worked as a product manager for Africa for over 20 years, building an appreciation for South Africa’s natural treasures, and helping a number of clients to promote responsible travel. She now works under her own brand – The Product Manager – and lives by the motto – ‘take dream trips, plan dream trips’!
How did you fall in love with travelling or start working within the industry as a career?
I grew up in Pietermaritzburg and crisscrossed the country with my parents during our camping getaways and annual December holiday to Cape Town. I had also had pen pals overseas and this always sparks your curiosity, wanderlust, and interest in new cultures. I studied Travel & Tourism at college and started as a Travel Agent in 1997 but quickly realised my passion was product and I have basically been involved in product management and contracting since 1999, when I started at Thompsons Africa in Durban and stayed there for 8years.
What kind of traveller are you?
I think I did my full share of camping when growing up, so I prefer comforts while travelling, not necessarily always luxury. I rate great people, good food and outstanding service higher than a luxury room. I have had my biggest travel disappointments in luxury hotels. I detest long drives and love flying (even long-haul). I LOVE cities!! I am NOT a beach bum. I love to meet people, taste new foods, taste local drinks, and indulge in the music culture and dance. But there are some bush destinations which literally took my breath away for their complete isolation (South Luangwa with Norman Carr Safaris) or just mind-blowing wildlife sightings (Serengeti).
Tell us about one of your most memorable trips/travel moments. Where and why?
I lose count of how many times I have been to Mozambique; this is my favorite destination in Southern Africa because the culture and history is so different to the rest of Southern Africa. The warmth of the people, the vibrant nightlife in Maputo, the striking beauty and history has really got under my skin. I want to get adopted by Mozambique! I have visited Southern Mozambique (Ponta’s), Maputo, Vilanculos, Bazaruto Achipelago, Beira, Gorongosa. Still so much more to see!!
What lessons have you learnt from your experience during COVID – both personally and in your business?
I already learned my lesson pre-COVID as I got retrenched in November 2017. So, I have been preaching diversify or die for the last 3 years. I have been freelancing since 2018 under my own brand – The Product Manager – and have added new skills and services to my offering which has assisted me to survive through the lockdown. I am still working with tourism clients but mostly on social media, content, and product development. I took charge in 2018 when my life crashed, and I am still taking charge now in 2020 when adjusting to the new normal.
How confident are you that the travel and tourism industry in Africa (especially South Africa) will survive & prosper over the next 2-3 years?
That depends on God’s plans! However, as travel and tourism is part of my identity, I am confident that we will recover as we always have. I have doing this for 23 years and the industry has survived many ups and downs, but I think it’s important to face the reality that in this new normal state the industry will never be the same; it will evolve and not everyone will have to evolve with it.
What do we need to do to make sure that happens?
Not sure I am equipped to comment but possibly invest online, work online, sell online. I can only speak for myself and my little brand and I have been working online since 2018 and this has carried me to Level 1.
Based on the five senses and thinking about travelling what do you…
- Like to see real people in their own space – local pub, home, shopping
- Like to taste food and wine
- Like to feel inspired and stirred by unique places and experiences
- Like to hear: the sounds of the plane taking off, city noise, cars, people, trams, trains, laughter, music
- Like to smell good local food ready to be devoured
Lastly, what do you love about Africa Travel Week (WTM Africa) and do you think live trade shows will still be important going forward (why)?
I love connecting with partners, suppliers, and new clients face-to-face even if only once a year. This industry has always been about people and relationships for me and I have always made great business connections at WTM Africa. Our industry is also about experiences and your first taste is to hear, see and feel the passion of those presenting their product or service. I love to work online but will still attend trade shows going forward.