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EC operators performs strongly at Indaba
10 May 2011
Guy Rogers

THE Eastern Cape has fared well at the Indaba tourism conference and expo in Durban, taking gold in two different categories in the main Welcome awards and only just falling short in the Eteya emerging tourism operators’ awards. The Welcome Awards winners are both from PE and are both family-owned businesses:  the Plantation, the wedding, functions’ and accommodation venue on the Sardinia Bay road, and Economic Cars and Bakkies, the 20-year-old Walmer-based car rental firm.

The third top-flight competitor from the EC was South African Bassie Travel Centre, which has outlets in Butterworth and East London. Bassie won first runner-up in the Emerging Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year Awards (Eteya) 2011.

Organised and presented by SA Tourism, the Welcome Awards are aimed at promoting service excellence and rewarding the best purveyors of “the warm South African welcome”. They were contested this year by nearly 3000 entrants across nine categories.

The Plantation won in the “meeting venues” sub-category and then triumphed again in the full “meetings, exhibitions and special events” category.

The Plantation spokesman Sarah Dirsuwei, who was in Durban on Sunday to receive the awards, told The Herald she and the rest of her team were “really honoured and…. smiling from ear to ear”.

The Plantation, which celebrates its fifth birthday this month, was competing against function and wedding venues from all over the country. Dirsuwei said she believed it was “passion and hands-on commitment” which won the day for them.

“Our team is guided by the policy that anyone who comes through our gates is royalty, and I think this is why we were chosen.

“Every member of our staff who interacts with visitors or who prepares the venue from the gardeners to waiters, chefs and managers – we all work together as a team. This recognition at Indaba is kudos for all of them.”

The Welcome award is the cherry on top for The Plantation which started a strong run three years ago. In 2009 and last year it was voted wedding venue of the year by the SA Bridal Industry Academy.

The recession and lingering economic down-town has not meant any slackening off in people getting married so business is good, she said.

“Guests are often from outside the metro but they still have roots here so they return to get married here. And  friends and family who come along for the event are often from all over the country and even overseas.

“I think this Welcome Award will grow our business still further, which is great for us but also for PE, in terms of accommodation, if we are full, and other tourist spend.”

The Welcome Award in the car rental category was accepted by Shelley Cohen, the daughter of Economic Car and Bakkie Hire owner Claire Cohen, who is overseas at present.

Shelley told The Herald she was hugely proud.

“My parents started the company in the mid-nineties in Walmer with just four cars and everyone in particular my Mom put in a lot of hours to make it what it is today.”

With operations now in the western and eastern Cape, the company was founded on and continues to be focused on service excellence, but after 20 years, “you just keep on punching,” she said.

“To be recognised at a ceremony as big as Indaba against even the big car rental firms from all over the country was a great satisfaction.

“It was especially so because we did not nominate ourselves. The first we knew anything was when we got a call from the organisers saying we had been nominated and asking for more information about the company.”

Responding to her Eteya first runner-up achievement, Bassie Ngozwana, the owner of South African Bassie Travel Centre, said the award was “a dream come true”.

“It has taken me five years of hard work to get my business to this level and the recognition is invaluable.”

The 40-year-old mother’s passion for travel logistics started when she was working as a training manager at Walter Sisulu University. She had to travel all over the Eastern Cape and the rest of the country “and there would always be glitches with my travel arrangements,” she said.

“I decided I would do everything in my power to ensure my clients would never experience what I felt when something had gone wrong with my flight or accommodation. I felt I could contribute to the industry by offering my clients excellent service.”

Having identified the gap, in 2005 she opened Bassie Travel Agency in Butterworth, and two years later she opened a second branch in East London. She now employs eight staff.
Ngozwana’s prize includes a R75000 cash injection into her business and an intensive 12-month mentorship programme facilitated by the Tourism Enterprise Partnership.

EC economic development and environmental affairs MEC Mcebisi Jonas, who attended the Eteya awards, congratulated Ngozwana and stressed the value of small businesses to the tourism sector and the SA economy.

 



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