Themba Mthombeni has no regrets about turning his back on HR and diving headlong into the cut-throat business of travel management. It’s been a steep learning curve, but if you’ve ever spent time in his company you’ll understand why he’s come through and built a successful business. He doesn’t do anything in half measures, as illustrated by his time spent at the International Travel Management Academy in Vancouver, Canada.
He’s done all the hard work, and with wife, Nomvula by his side as the financial brains of the business, Mthombeni believes that Duma Travel is in the right place at the right time.
“African travel is the future, because we’ve got a huge opportunity, untapped resources and our corporates are starting to realise that. They’re moving in to Africa and South Africa is being used as a platform,” he says.
But, Mthombeni is wise enough to know that there’s more to it than just creating a South African travel management company, even though Duma Travel has expanded to six branches in the Western Cape, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban, and has its eye on other major cities.
“As a TMC, you’ve got to do your homework and actually spend on resources, going into Africa on educationals and joining bodies, where you can meet like-minded people who are facing the same issues that we’re facing, and the people with the local knowledge,” he says.
Mthombeni is mindful of the opportunity presented by the increased interest in Africa, due to its rich resources and the financial peril that the likes of Europe and the United States find themselves in. But, for Duma Travel to cash in, according to Mthombeni, it needs to be selling itself as an African travel expert.
“That is, managing risk, understanding the destinations and the particular issues that pertain to those destinations, as well as being able to help your corporates avoid that. We’ve got to find and train people who are going to have specific skills to handle African travel. That is going to be a very big thing going forward.”
“At the moment, we don’t have that. For most companies, African travel is still a black box and the industry is lagging behind with the solutions and the necessary knowledge to actually ensure that their travel is smooth, safe and cost-effective,” says Mthombeni.
With all of that in mind, where does Mthombeni see the most activity or interest at the moment?
“Kigali in Rwanda is becoming the Singapore of Africa, whilst Ghana is chipping away very slowly. It’s very stable and is definitely a nation of the future. Then there’s resource-rich DRC and Mozambique, and Uganda, Angola and Ghana have discovered oil. Then there’s Zimbabwe, which is just waiting to explode.”
Explode is what I think Mthombeni is going to do, as he gets quite animated over a cappuccino! He’s clearly passionate about what he does and there are a couple of issues close to his heart – namely, skills development and the travel industry competing on price.
“It’s something that I’ve always worried about,” he says, “because what that does is result in people focusing on the now and forgetting about the future. That will come back to haunt us.”
Wise words the industry would do well to heed.