How does it feel to win the Joburg Tourism Entrepreneur Award?
I am most humbled for having being awarded the Joburg Tourism Entrepreneur Award. The five-year journey of owning the Soweto Hotel and Conference Centre has not been without challenges. I can only turn to the wonderful staff and management team, who are so dedicated and committed the continue to take the Soweto Hotel to greater heights.
It has been said that you were influenced to take a course in hotel management by a girl you met on a bus?
Indeed, I looked over the shoulder of a schoolmate as we rode home on the school bus and discovered a brochure advertising a three-year hotel management diploma at Ecole Les Roches, a top school in Switzerland.
It is also said that your father was disappointed with your decision, as he wanted you to become a doctor. What does he think now?
My parents are the proudest of my accomplishments as an hotelier and they have loved staying at the hotels I have worked at over the years.
Having studied in Switzerland and travelled and worked extensively in Africa, Europe and America, how do you think the South African tourism industry compares?
I always knew that when I came back home, I would partake in defining African hospitality. SA has world-class hospitality products that stand head and shoulders above what is offered internationally. We are also blessed with ubuntu and if we bring this attribute into the world of hospitality, we will have our own unique characteristic that cannot be imitated. The country proved this to the world when we hosted the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Hotel Soweto opened its doors five years ago. What have been highlights and challenges?
The greatest highlight has been opening the doors of the first black-owned and managed four-star hotel in Soweto in October 2007. We trained 25 unemployed youth from locations around Soweto in the first year. They have gone on to work for other hotels and we continue to develop skills in the industry.
We also have contributed greatly to the uplifting of tourism SMMEs who, like us, struggle to create sustainable, thriving businesses. Among them we count Ntokozo Dube of TKD Tours, who has become Soweto Hotel’s preferred tour guide for Kliptown and the rest of Soweto.
We have also partnered with six local tourism SMMEs to offer a 24-hour package we call SoWeToo. It includes a stay at Soweto Hotel, transport, bird watching, lunch at Roots, quad biking, personalised craft making, breakfast and a walking tour. This ensures that every rand spent is spread along a value chain.
Is the hotel's location part of the reason it has been so successful? Was that what prompted you to take up this venture?
The Soweto Hotel is located on a National Heritage site: the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, which is dedicated to the memory of the Freedom Charter adopted on 25 June 1955.
The opportunity to be a trailblazer is what prompted me to take up this venture. Townships are stereotyped for only offering bed-and-breakfast facilities and shebeens. I wanted to direct the discerning tourist to a world-class experience in one of SA's famous townships. I also felt that the Soweto Hotel could be a socio-economic catalyst for the surrounding area. Our neighbourhood consists of highly impoverished pockets and therefore I saw it as an opportunity to make a difference using hospitality and tourism.
In addition to overseeing the hotel, you are also MD of Birchwood Hotel and OR Tambo Conference Centre. How do you juggle all your responsibilities?
I am driven by a passion for hospitality, so while it is a big challenge, I absolutely love what I do. I have a great team at both hotels. I am grateful for their commitment and dedication. I have wonderful support from my husband of 17 years, Salif Siddo. He gives me all the encouragement to soar.
What is your formula for success?
I believe in hard work and focusing on team members' individual strengths – you are only as good as the people around you. For the 25 years that I have been in the hotel industry, I know that people are the reason clients come back.
What advice would you give a young woman who has aspirations of following a career path like yours?
You must have a passion for the hospitality industry. Understand that it is a predominantly white, male environment; you must have endurance. Develop yourself and study towards the qualifications that will make you the best in your field. Remain humble and start at the bottom whenever you get the opportunity. Build yourself up by pursuing any vacancies within your workplace. Attend all the training sessions the company offers to improve yourself. Work hard and you will be noticed for your efforts and excellence, as you become the best at what you do.