BEE in the Know

A chat with Stella Khumalo, CEO: uShaka Marine World

Stella Khumalo, CEO of uShaka Marine World in Durban, is passionate about tourism, promoting her city and empowering communities. This teacher-turned-businesswoman was recently recognised by the Business Woman’s Association (BWA) for her achievements in her field and for the difference she has made.

Stella originally qualified with first class majors as a teacher specialising in science and did not take long to become a provincial department head for Arts, Culture and Tourism. Staying in the public sector, she moved to tourism where she eventually became the CEO of the KwaZulu-Natal Liquor Authority in 2012. In her current role as CEO of uShaka Marine World, she is responsible for ensuring business continuity and sustainability and she views people empowerment as a key contributor to achieving a sustainable tourism industry.

Still passionate about education, Stella is currently pursuing a PhD in Business Administration, after obtaining an MBA from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2004. Using her experience to inspire others, she has founded the Stella Educational Foundation which aims to empower, support and mentor young people, particularly those in grades 11 and 12.

Grant Thornton Verification Services spoke to Stella as part of National Tourism Month in South Africa during September, to find out her thoughts on the industry and opportunities for greater participation.

1. You were recently acknowledged by the Business Women's Association as a regional business achiever in the government category. Tell us more about this award and what it means to you in your role at uShaka?

It is an honour to have been acknowledged by the Business Women’s Association for the work I do as CEO of uShaka Marine World, but the greater value of the Award for me was the opportunity it provided to me to conduct my very own self-assessment. I had to evaluate my leadership approach in ensuring business continuity and sustainability. It also called for assessing the empowerment initiatives that I have introduced at uShaka, the nature of support I had given to others and the community upliftment role that I play. This enabled me to identify gaps in what I do and meant that I can improve on areas in which I realised I might not be doing enough.

2. Durban successfully bid for the Commonwealth Games to be held in 2022. What sort of sustainable opportunities do you think this could create for local entrepreneurs and businesses in the tourism sector and others, in KZN?

Durban has successfully hosted leading sports events in the past and has become one of Africa's premier sporting destinations. That in itself is a significant positive for the tourism industry and has made us confident that the city is more than ready to host a successful Commonwealth Games in 2022.  Major sporting events empower residents and communities, and bring welcome economic benefits to the region.

We expect that there will be major infrastructure development – including the Games Village, increased empowerment of people in terms of general and specialised skills and knowledge. Importantly, it also brings about social cohesion and unity, which is a major benefit for the tourism industry, as it leads to growth, job creation and improved service delivery. Furthermore, the benefits are spread beyond the participants and visitors to the bigger audience who will be experiencing the Games through various media channels.

3. Tourism is undeniably a key industry in Durban. How do you think larger tourism organisations or companies could assist smaller starts ups in this industry?

I believe larger tourism organisations have a key role to play in assisting start-up enterprises in venturing into this industry. Tourism is a very interesting field with diverse opportunities, e.g. operating tours, organising events in culture, arts and heritage. Our role is to ensure knowledge and understanding of the entire value chain, and to work with smaller businesses to obtain the relevant accreditation and development, so that standards are maintained. I believe we can achieve this by providing business with exposure, creating networks, giving mentorship and coaching, as well as assisting them with the right partnerships so that they can grow to full independence.

4. The new amended tourism B-BBEE codes have a higher target for contributions towards supplier development and target that at least 51% of purchases  must be from SA suppliers. What do you think some of the challenges and opportunities are for larger tourism entities, in finding or creating and supporting these local entities?

Businesses should identify and categorise the opportunities where local entities can participate, and business chambers are valuable in helping to find the right partners.

At uShaka we are going through a full assessment of services, products and other opportunities, together with the Durban Business Chamber. We will use the Chamber’s and City’s databases to develop an Enterprise Development Programme which will be well structured, focused and have clear deliverable growth objectives. The programme will make provision for training and will allow us to open opportunities for smaller local businesses, while not compromising on our standards.

I believe that empowerment and transformation make good business sense, as it brings innovation to the tourism sector through the introduction of new stakeholders. This will ultimately help us to attract new markets and stimulate new product development.

5. Tourism is a crucial growth driver in our economy and communities. The new codes aim to drive growth in tourism related skills, by doubling the skills spend target and specifying that it be spent on qualifications related to accommodation, hospitality, and travel related services. What do you see as the challenges in recruiting staff with these qualifications?

I do not see this as a challenge, as the implementation of the new codes will result in a skills development.

Importantly, as businesses participate in this development, they get to have a say in the kind of skills and competencies they would like to develop. At uShaka we have a staff complement of 500, more than half of which is categorised as youth, which currently generally provide low-skilled services such as cleaners and cashiers.

I believe we have a responsibility to develop programmes that will improve these workers’ skills and so contribute to the skills base not only at uShaka, but for the benefit of the greater tourism industry. We have worked with higher education institutions in developing a training programme for uShaka which includes bursaries for staff. We also provide workplace training for people not in our employment through internships and learnerships. We do not see challenges in recruiting people, as we currently take in about 200 casual workers per year; however, the challenge lies in ensuring we provide adequate training.

6. You come from a teaching background and this is obviously still a passion of yours. Tell us more about the Stella Education Foundation and what its goals are?

Stella Education Foundation is about bringing back hope and creating confidence-building opportunities through empowerment. The Foundation aims to position young people as best they can be and give them a competitive edge. This is my way of using my experience to the best of my ability to make a difference.

To discuss your BEE certification requirements according to the amended tourism codes, or for further information, please contact Jenni Lawrence.

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