Covid 19 health protocols still apply
By Edward Tsumele
His buasiness was for several years, since 2003 when he founded it, the star of the tourism secotor in South Africa, especicially for townships with a rich cultural heritage. It is Soweto’s warm, welcoming residents and the township’s rich history that he has successfully harnessed to create a thriving tourism business and also didi so by weaving a tight narrative about Soweto. That business acumen saw his business grow exponentially over the years as international tourists fell in love with Soweto, its culture, history and its stories.
In fact the success of his tourism business became a study of how other South African townships should take adva ntage of their rich historical and cultural history to touch the minds, hearts and pockets of international tourists by creating similar businesses.
That is Lebo’s Back Packers, a world renowned local tourism destination that attracted the high heeled from oversseas. That was before Covid 19. But when this Global Pandemic struck,the toursim sector was the first affected as international borders were closed and local residents were locked inddoors to minimise the spread of thenovel coronaviri virus. The toursim sector suddenly found itself in limbo. Lebo’s Back Packers, based in Orlando West, Soweto, was hit hard, especcillay because its success was mainly based on international tourist patronage.
“We were forced to retrench staff as we were affected badly by Covid-19 as bookings that had been made way beack before Covid19, were cancelled and we had to pay back the money to those who had booked.
“However, this pandemic and the period that we were not operating, gave us an opportunity to think of fresh ways of operating, going forward into the future, and that new way of operating was informed by us going back to the community. We decided going forward we have to open up the place to our local tourists,” said the fonder of this famous tourist attraction that he founded when he had just truned 22 in 2003. The place has since grown big, offering a number of experiences that include bycycle rides through Soweto, an overnight campsite site for those who are adventurous, hosts story telling sessions as well as hosting events for corporates, to name but a few.
Lebo Malepa, was speaking to the the media yesterday, September 22, at the beginning of a three day media blitz orchstrated and organised by Joburg Tourism as the city is beginning an aggressive marketing campaign that is focussed on domestic tourism, and that is getting South Africans to enjoy variouis experiences in their backyard.
This is done to kick-start the tourism sector that has been mainly in lockdown since March, until now at Level 1 of the risk adjusted lockdown. This level allows for domestic tourism activities even though it is not yet open for international tourism activities as borders are still closed. Healht procols however still apply.
Dubbed by Joburg Tourism “Three Day State of Readiness Tours to celebrate Tourism Month, Heritage Day and International Tourism Day” all in the month of September, Director of Tourism at the City of Johannesburg Thandubuhle Mgudlwa, explained during the event that in fact this new campaign by Joburg Tourism is part of a bigger new campaign by the City Of Joburg called Welcome2Joburg – A City Reimagined campaign..
This tour yesterday included exploring Soweto on bicycle rides, moving from Lebo’s Back Packers to places of historical and cultural significance around the township, such as Mzimhlophe’s once notorious male only hostels that have since been converted into family units (lamentably they are still unoccupied many years after their completion due to a dispute about rental fees), Hector Peterson Museum, Vilakazi Street, including the Mandela House that seems to have been deserted since Winnie passed on in 2018.
From today and the next day, this media marketing blitz will continue and the tour will include what Joburg Tourism calls ‘Joburg City underground migrant cuisine”, and an experience on Open Top Red Bus on ending on September 24.