Young entrepreneurs inspire the youth to grab opportunities in the tourism industry

Sisters Gugu and Busisiwe Ngcelwane co-founded Twin Venture. Picture: Supplied

Sisters Gugu and Busisiwe Ngcelwane co-founded Twin Venture. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 14, 2024


South Africa, like many countries globally, grapples with the challenge of youth unemployment. The tourism industry is a sector rife with opportunities and could be a catalyst in changing the country’s unemployment statistics and providing employment for young people.

As part of Youth Month and Youth Day celebrations, we spoke to four young entrepreneurs, Twin Venture founders and twins, Gugu and Busisiwe Ngcelwane, 30, in Cape Town, Curiocity founder Bheki Dube, 32, in Johannesburg and Somopho Hills founder, Lungani Mthembu, 35, in Empangeni.

Twin Ventures is an adventure travel business offering sand-boarding and quad-biking services to visitors at Atlantis Dunes.

Curiocity is a network offering accommodation and experiences for travellers in Johannesburg and Cape Town while Somopho Hills is an adventure park offering outdoor activities including trail hiking, paintball, quad biking and camping in rural Empangeni north of KwaZulu-Natal.

Bheki Dube, the Founder and CEO of Curiocity at Maboneng Johannesburg. Picture: Supplied

What inspired you to open your company?

Ngcelwane sisters (NS): We always enjoyed working with people. We were visiting the Western Cape for our birthday, we went quad biking and enjoyed it. We fell in-love with the city and we saw a gap at the time in the industry and we jumped for the opportunity.

Bheki Dube (BD): I opened my first curiosity when I was 21 years old. I grew up in Johannesburg Troyville among artists, socialists, rebels of great consciousness and some of the great minds of our time and that’s what really shaped my passion for telling stories of the neighbourhoods, the cities and the country that we are in.

I’ve been very fortunate and privileged to be able to create a business out of these narratives and out of these spaces.

Lungani Mthembu (LM): Somopho Hills was created to preserve the legacy of the Mthembu Royal Family. I’ve always been a traveller and travelled to many places around the world and with SA.

After travelling, I realized that the tourism industry is a very interesting space but many of the product owners are white and you struggle to find a business that is 100% owned by a black person and a young one and I was inspired by that.

As I travelled to many establishments to enjoy myself, I started to develop the love of owning one and I started working on that dream, which today is a reality. My second inspiration was to uplift my community and prove that rural communities can offer travel experiences.

There are many industries to work in, so why did you choose the tourism sector?

NS: It’s one industry that made sense to us and we honestly belonged. There is so much to do in the tourism industry and so much to learn. South Africa has beautiful landscapes, beaches, mountains and cultural diversity.

We have a beautiful country and all our nine provinces have something great to offer. There is something for everyone

BD: What really prompted me to open Curiocity was taking a backpacking trip across SA, this was probably 15 years ago and while taking this trip with a friend of mine from Germany. I realised that the backpacking industry was a very mom-and-pop run industry.

It was run by older people, you know, and it surprised me that why aren’t there young people within the industry.

Secondly, it was such a cottage industry that no one really paid attention to and I guess I’d also experienced some sort of degree of separation as a local South African trying to experience our country and was dealt with very differently yet an international was given more privilege of having an experience in these spaces.

LM: I started out working in different places as an employee and left teaching to pursue entrepreneurship. After quitting my job as a teacher, I did work as a municipal official in the City of Umhlathuze.

I wanted to do something where I would also be having fun while doing it. Tourism is exciting, you’ll never feel like you are working a day in your life. The only problem is that when you’re an owner, all the challenges of keeping it running are yours.

Somopho Hills founder and CEO, Lungani Mthembu. Picture: Supplied

As a youth-led business, what are some of the challenges you face?

NS: In the beginning, we didn’t have a reliable mechanic and when we started it was hard to get reliable staff members to work with. When winter starts, there tends to be a lot of rain on our side.

Last year, we noticed that despite these weather conditions, people still booked their trips and wouldn’t cancel, so we made sure that this year when they arrive, we give them raincoats so they don’t get wet.

BD: One of the challenges that we face is intellectual property (IP). When you start a business at a young age, you haven’t fully matured enough to really solidify your concept or articulate them so it becomes really hard to convince the investment community to back your ideas.

Also, the funding instruments in SA are very linear and risk-averse, so this is a new market and a new way of travelling and a lot of funding instruments do not understand that so it’s hard to seek funding in that manner.

Curiocity is also very youth-led so finding young people who are really passionate about travel and tourism is really hard. We need to present tourism as an opportunity for entrepreneurship when offering it in schools.

LM: We face common challenges as a youth-led business. We are in the business of entertaining and making people happy and one of our challenges is cash flow. With the current state of our economy in the country, to go out and play and have fun is the last option.

People prioritise things like food, shelter, clean water and electricity and those with spare money decide to say we can go now and enjoy ourselves.

Cash flow is a problem because if people are not coming, we don’t make any money. There are bills, there are employees to be paid so those are the challenges.

Twin sisters and entrepreneurs, Gugu and Busisiwe Ngcelwane, at Africa’s Travel Indaba. Picture: Instagram

Any words of inspiration for young people in the tourism industry?

NS: Love yourself and believe in yourself. Know that you can succeed, just give yourself time. Rome was not built in a day. Being in the business, we had started other ventures before and there were no jobs until we got where we are today.

Also, get mentorship as it allows you to see people succeeding, and then you’ll realise that you also can do it. People do survive on entrepreneurship.

BD: For young people wanting to entering into this tourism industry, I think one, you have to find what you are truly passionate about. Whether it’s the front desk, or behind the desk, really stick to it and truly give yourself time to say this is what I will focus on.

When I was 21, I took the conscious decision to say you know, this is what I’ll do for the rest of my life. Yes it will evolve you know. When I started in Johannesburg, I didn’t think that I will grow this network or chain of Curiocitys across South Africa but it was a commitment that I made for myself and said listen, I’ll do this for the rest of my life.

You need to have a long-term view and say, I’ve come into this industry and, if I really want to transform an industry and change it, its got to be my lifelong calling.

LM: Never let anyone tell you that you’re dreams are too big. You’re the one who has a passion and calling for this. Go out there and prove yourself.

Also, accept failure as part of the learning process. Be innovative, drive around, travel, seek inspiration and visit places and establishments where people are doing exactly what you are doing and everything will be a success.