Thebe Tourism Group (TTG) is celebrating 15 years in the industry this year. This is a significant milestone in the tourism field, and TTG has grown from strength to strength over the years. Transformation in the tourism sector is a key driver of growth and TTG has owned this space over the last 15 years as is clear from the way the company’s portfolio was strategically adapted over time. Some of the Group’s best performing assets over the years have been the Cape Point Concession, Club Travel, Batsumi, Tour D’Afrique and Thebe Reed Exhibitions.
This phenomenal chapter in the history of tourism transformation has been written thanks to the efforts of some stellar leaders. Chairman of the TTG Board Vusi Khanyile has been the driving force behind Thebe Tourism Group since its inception in 2001. His vision of transforming the tourism sector was a key factor in the Group’s success long before transformation became an industry buzz-word; his dedication and recognition of the economic potential of tourism in South Africa has been a mainstay for the management team over the years
Joining forces with Khanyile in his uncompromising quest for transformation have been a number of phenomenal CEOs, many of whom have left their stamp behind as part of the company DNA.
Jerry Mabena, the ‘chief whip/lead therapist’ as he often refers to himself, has been Thebe Tourism Group CEO since 2012. Not only is he respected by the industry as an old hand, having served as CEO at Kagiso Exhibitions while the organisation managed the Tourism Indaba, but he is also board director at the Tourism Business Council South Africa and several other boards in the tourism, financial services and media & communications sectors of Thebe.
“It is always an honour to be part of a great team and a great organisation with a strong history and heritage,” says Jerry. “There is no solitary moment that I can single out as a personal highlight or ‘proud moment’ while at Thebe Tourism Group, but rather a series of moments such as celebrating an award of one of the investee companies or one of our team members being recognised, through appointment into a board or nominated for an award for the great work they have done; or being part of a ground breaking initiative such as Holiday Swap. Seeing one of the investee companies go through a complete turnaround is most rewarding.” Jerry’s approach to solving the challenges of tourism in South Africa is a source of inspiration to the staff and companies of Thebe Tourism Group.
General Manager Brett Hendricks is celebrating his tenth year in a leadership role at Thebe Tourism Group, where he started as group financial manager and then took up the position of Chief Financial Officer, before being appointed as GM in 2012. He also serves on all the boards within the Thebe Tourism Group of companies as well as Cape Town Tourism, and is Jerry’s alternate on the TBCSA. “This year will be a milestone for me within TTG and the Thebe family,” says Brett. “I am eternally grateful for the opportunity that was entrusted to me, and over the years I have gained valuable experience about the industry and what makes it tick. I can proudly say that being part of this milestone achievement for TTG, is certainly an honour and we will continue to fly the Thebe Flag and values in the years to come.”
Over the years the TTG companies have achieved many proud accomplishments within the spectrum of its businesses. Each one of these a milestone in its own right. Highlighting a few of the more recent ones is an indicator of the calibre of companies within the group.
Iconic Cape Point
Most recent was the Group’s acquisition of the Cape Point Concession. After owning a 50% stake in the concession for 14 years, last year TTG acquired the other 50% and now enjoys 100% ownership of the concession with SANParks. Cape Point was recognised for having the best management of a scenically beautiful location in South Africa at the National Tourism Department’s Lilizela Awards in 2014.
Brett Hendricks comments: “As an international visitor destination that is hosted domestically, it is imperative that we ensure that the experience, while remaining uniquely South African, is delivered on a standard that compares on a global scale. We will therefore be focusing a lot more on visitor experience, enhancing the unique attributes Cape Point has to offer for both international and local visitors. Watch this space for updates on this!”
Club Travel has won Africa’s leading Travel Agency for nine consecutive years at the World Travel Awards, as well as South Africa’s leading Travel Agency for the last two consecutive years – both are accolades to be very proud of.
Since becoming part of the Thebe Tourism Group family, Thebe Reed Exhibitions have won an array of awards. Some of the most recent include Top Gender Empowerment Company in the Travel, Leisure and Entertainment sector in the 2014 Standard Bank Top Women Awards; Exhibitions & Events Management Firm of the Year: South Africa at the Acquisition International Magazine’s Business Excellence Awards in 2014; and Winner of the Early Childhood Development category in Media24’s Unlisted Company CSI Awards 2014.
Thebe Reed Exhibitions’ Managing Director, Carol Weaving, has been awarded a number of accolades, some of which include: Top Performing Business Woman of the Year at the African Access National Business Awards 2011; inducted into the EXSA Hall of Fame (EXSA Awards 2012); Top Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the 2014 Standard Bank Top Women Awards. Thebe Reed Exhibitions also launched WTM Africa in 2014, a tourism trade show that forms part of the globally recognised World Travel Market portfolio. The show continues to grow in strength every year.
Early 2015, in conjunction with Tourism KwaZulu-Natal, Thebe Travel Group brought on air a world first reality TV travel show: Holiday Swap KZN. Through this show, the group showcased not only the beauty of the province, but also the exciting tourism offerings available. The show peaked at nearly five million viewers during the most popular episode broadcast on SABC 1.
Holiday Swap KZN targeted the middle-income black potential traveller (or current ‘non traveller’) – an untapped market with tremendous potential to transform the tourism sector. Holiday Swap won the Most Native Ad Format Award at the inaugural Drum Content Awards in the UK, beating off strong international competition – a very proud moment for all involved in the project.
Judiet Barnes, Thebe Tourism Group Marketing Manager, enthuses: “The aim with Holiday Swap was to create a product that will make travel accessible and unintimidating. The fact that we saw the viewership numbers rise to the levels that they did bore testament to the relevance of the product domestically. What made the Drum award so significant was that we competed on an international level with mega-brands in a marketing field that almost every company relies on in today’s times: content. Being a finalist in the category as the only South African competitor was an outstanding honour in itself, but to have been awarded the winner in the category where the two other finalists were mega-brands Mercedes and Phillips was an extremely proud moment. We often, as African companies, don’t celebrate our unique concepts; winning these type of awards makes the big agencies and corporates sit up and recognise the innovation in South Africa.’
At the same time, Thebe Tourism Group launched the Thebe Travel -card, a product which can enable locals to lay-by their travel. The Thebe Travel card is an ever-evolving offering that is being adapted and customised based on insights gained from working with clientele.
At Thebe Tourism Group, the people who work there are a key priority, while staying true to core values is an article of faith. The Group generally invests in businesses that share the same passion. The pay-off line at Thebe is “Building communities. Our bottom line” – and with this as its foundation, the Group remains dedicated to transforming the tourism sector both in terms of the way people travel as well as positively impacting the beneficiaries of tourism in South Africa.
Through direct or indirect product involvement, local communities benefit from product offerings through community upliftment, skills transfer and empowerment, which is something that Thebe is passionate and deliberate about. The Group’s African heritage is its pride and strength; integrity and commitment to constant innovation are driving factors for continuous growth and the pursuit of excellence.
In the pipeline
What does the future hold for Thebe Tourism Group? Jerry Mabena comments:: “We are exploring the various sectors of the tourism value chain that we are not involved in currently and considering if we have an appetite for delving into them. We are also researching growing areas we are already involved in. “Attraction management product offering is one sector we are investigating in-depth and we are also looking in the hospitality sector. As Thebe Tourism Group we have big aspirations for the future and we are confident we can reach them.”
The Group of Companies
The Thebe Tourism Group portfolio currently includes the Cape Point Concession, Thebe Reed Exhibitions, Travelex Africa, Tour D’Afrique, Club Travel and First Car Rental. We asked the leadership of these companies for their comments on the occasion of the Group reaching the 15-year mark.
Kananelo Makhetha, CEO of Travelex Africa: “The Team at Travelex Africa is proud to be part of the TTG family and we wish TTG a happy 15th anniversary.”
Craig van Rooyen, Director at Tour D’Afrique: “We would like to wish TTG all the best with reaching their 15th year milestone in business. We have not only enjoyed our partnership with Thebe over the last four years, but also recognise how substantial our business has grown from this partnership.”
Wally Gaynor Managing Director of Club Travel: “We are immensely proud of our association with Thebe. Our partnership is strong and growing and we are excited for our future together.”
Carol Weaving, MD of Thebe Reed Exhibitions: “Thebe Reed Exhibitions, a Thebe Tourism Group partner, is excited and proud to celebrate this 15-year milestone with the travel trade. At Thebe Reed, we are honoured to be associated with an organisation that is passionate about sharing Africa with the world and that is influenced strongly by our shared African heritage. We wish you a successful journey into the next 15 years.”
Bruce Barritt, Managing Director of First Car Rental:“Reaching the 15 year milestone reflects the huge commitment to your values, which have remained strictly aligned with your vision. Throughout, you have excelled in selecting the right partners, building a significant portfolio of tourism and related products and services. As the oldest black-empowered South African tourism group in the country, we commend you and heartily congratulate you.”
Thebe Tourism Group Companies Insights
Are you interested in where the market is heading? Thebe Tourism Group company leaders are ready to offer market insight.
Kananelo Makhetha, Travelex Africa: “Depreciation of the Rand saw a marked decline in our foreign currency sales and of average sales transaction values, we have a direct opposite effect on our foreign currency purchases. Our business has benefited since we ‘purchase’ more than we ‘sell’.”
Bruce Barrit, First Car Rental: “There is no doubt that 2016 has been and will be a challenging year – we expect the interest rates to increase even further this year which will put major strain on any car rental operations’ bottom-line. On the positive side, though, a weaker Rand should assist the inbound market segment to grow substantially within 2016. We will have to be disciplined with overheads and ensure that we run as efficiently as humanly possible and breach the age-old seasonality tourism issue with an exceptional customer loyalty approach in the local segments, especially corporate travel. We will do even more in the next few months by deeply personalising the rental experience and automating certain operational procedures even further.”
Craig van Rooyen, Tour D’Afrique: “The inbound market has experienced a significant increase in business this year compared to 2015 mainly due to the exchange rate on the South African Rand, resulting in many international clients favouring South Africa as a value-for-money leisure destination. We have seen this trend consistently throughout our global operations, especially in our traditional volume markets such as the UK, Germany and the USA. We are focused on advancing our technology offering: simplifying the process whereby clients can self-help themselves with online quotes and real-time availability. We believe this to be the future booking trend in most markets.”
Wally Gaynor, Club Travel: “On the Local Corporate travel side we see a trend towards managed online booking, we have a number of exciting technology products for the Corporate Market. On the Leisure Travel side although we see a large take up in our online booking products. There is a definite trend among “time poor” clients towards managed travel by traditional well trained and travelled consultants. Despite doom-and-gloom with the exchange rate we have destinations that are still cheap and not just Thailand and South East Asia. The reality is that many currencies have fallen so Russia, Brazil, Argentina, and Central America are now more affordable than ever.”
Carol Weaving, Thebe Reed: “Through our WTM Africa exhibition we are able to follow and present the latest trends in the tourism industry to the visitors of the exhibition. WTM Africa sources credible and renowned local and international speakers, who will be presenting key and relevant information. This year will present topics such as the rise in experiential travellers, travel warnings and how to work with them, travel blogging as well as a number of seminars on sustainable tourism. Sharing the wealth of knowledge within the tourism industry is a core component of WTM Africa and is essential for the sustainability of the industry.”