Sustainable Tourism Development In Africa: Interview With Thomas Müller, CEO, rainmaker
Thomas Müller is an entrepreneur with more than 37 years of experience in IT and more than 16 years in digital marketing and technology in the global hospitality and tourism industry. In this exclusive interview, he shares his thoughts with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online on the state of sustainable tourism development in Africa, the role marketing and branding play in facilitating sustainable tourism, the impact of his company, rainmaker in Africa and more. Excerpts.
Alaba: Could you tell us about rainmaker digital and the gap it’s filling?
Thomas: rainmaker has been created as a social enterprise and as such is focused on the impact we can create for destinations, for their hospitality and tourism businesses and people. It is our passion to change the hospitality and tourism sector to keep more tourism spend in the destination through the democratization of technology which we make inclusively and pervasively available to all emerging, small, medium and independent hospitality and tourism businesses. With this, the destination and their hospitality and tourism businesses take back control of their visibility, digital presence, reputation, marketing communication, and distribution.
Together with Tourism Authorities and Hospitality and Tourism Associations we create a public-private partnership, create local capacity and create a digital transformation initiative, aligned to the UNWTO digital transformation strategy and contributing to the Sustainability Goals.
Alaba: What attracted you to sustainable tourism development in Africa?
Thomas: I have got my “Africa-Virus” already in 1984 when I traveled to Kenya. When I was working with Thomas Cook in the early 2000’s I spend quite some time in Senegal. However, for 10 years I am now living in Namibia and am very active in the Southern African and Pan-African Travel, Tourism, and Hospitality industry.
I have realized that in the last 5 years the world has dramatically change to the disadvantage of the destinations and their hospitality and tourism businesses and therefore for its people. One major result of tourism is to contribute to the sustainable development of the destination and its people. However, the way things have developed worried me.
Traditional value chains are no longer sustainable as only 50% of the potential traveler makes use of a high street travel agent and therefore the traditional value chain of a travel agent – wholesale operator – DMC inbound tour operator. At the same time, hundreds of digital platforms have been created. With this a duopoly of the booking holdings and Expedia group has been established, two companies with about 40+ brands now dominating the market.
At the same time, I saw the hospitality and tourism businesses suffer from the overwhelming complexity and the increasing cost of distribution while at the same tie losing total control of their visibility, reputation, and distribution, becoming ever more dependent.
The fact that such a platform makes more money with a booking that the hospitality and tourism business in the destination worried me. I simply find this unethical as tourism in that way can’t contribute to a destination sustainable development as it should and could. I also call this market situation “Colonialism 3.0”.
It has become my passion and vision to change this for the better of the destination, their hospitality and tourism businesses and people. That is when I started rainmaker as a social enterprise or zebra type company in 2016.
Alaba: What are your major achievements and impacts in Africa?
Thomas: We started in 2016 in Namibia and we grew on average by 100% each year only in Namibia. We only started rendering our services in South Africa in late 2018.
We have achieved some 42 Million 360° virtual tour views for our Namibian customers; those have been gained from 11.7 million Google Searches, 23.1 million views. Looking at the conversion we gained some 321.000 website conversions, 612.000 directions conversions, and 74.000 phone call conversions. Finally, more than N$ 20 Million in direct booking revenue have been achieved for our Namibian customers. Some customers we only grew by 80% but others we grew by 700% of direct revenue. This is a significant achievement towards their profit and sustainability.
Given that Namibia is a rather small destination with only some 250.000 to 300.000 leisure tourists, where we only have a market share of about 18% in the hospitality and tourism sector, this is a significant achievement and track record, given that for example the official website of the tourism board scores some 700.000 views per year.
It is because of this tangible impact, our 5 Stages of Success and our VISTA Destination Network have been awarded with the prestigious HSMAI (Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International) in New York in 2018, with the World Tourism Forum Lucern Destination Innovation Start-Up Award in 2018 and with the African Tourism Leadership Forum Award in 2019.
Alaba: How does your organisation measure its impact?
Thomas: The impact we achieve is measured by key performance parameters such as increase in occupancy, an improvement on average daily room rate, migration from online travel and DMC bookings towards direct bookings and the impact on ADR and profit as well as the improvement of the respective online reputation which as a significant impact on direct bookings. Furthermore, the number of searches, views, and conversions from Google based on the overall strategy.
Alaba: What are the practical tips to create links among ecotourism, conservation and community development?
Thomas: When it comes to terms and buzzwords such as ecotourism, sustainable tourism, green tourism, responsible tourism, etc. I am getting quite excited as this is a big topic nowadays in almost every source market to Africa. However, as you can see already on the wording, and the so-called “Greta Thunberg” effect has done a lot to sensitize travelers, it is rather only focused on the ecological site of sustainable and to an extent to the social side of sustainability.
I am of the opinion that this is short thinking and not taking all aspects into account. To me, there is one major part missing. Economical sustainability. If that can’t be achieved in the first place, there is no basis, no funds and no resources available in a destination and from their hospitality and tourism businesses to properly invest in social and/or economic sustainability and with this helping communities, conservancies and therefore emerging businesses, entrepreneurs and the people in the region to prosper.
As long as 60% to 80% of the profits leaking outside of the destination to global giants, this is a problem we need to fix in order to actually achieve a real sustainable tourism development.
Alaba: Can you say that sustainable destinations have a competitive edge? Why?
Thomas: Yes, they do have a competitive edge as the world and the travelers globally are sensitized on climate change, sustainability, ecotourism, green tourism, etc. and are very careful when selecting their journey. However and as mentioned above, they are not aware that they actually harm a destination and it’s hospitality and tourism businesses when booking through online travel agents and such as their tourism spend doesn’t contribute to the destination, their hospitality, and tourism business and its people as it should and could.
We need to make the traveler aware of the impact it has, especially for developing countries and destinations, their businesses and people when booking directly instead of through platforms.
Alaba: What role does brand and marketing play in facilitating a more sustainable tourism in Africa?
Thomas: It plays a huge role in my perspective. But as mentioned the focus is only on one or two parts being the ecological and social segment of sustainability, often neglecting the at least equally important economical sustainability aspect. There is a growing market of conscious travelers who care. This issue needs to be addressed and the market needs to be made aware.
Alaba: What advice will you give African decision-makers (political and business) on tourism sustainability?
Thomas: Well, from my perspective, destinations need to enable to do businesses with potential travelers to meet their demands, wants and desires while at the same time address the sustainability issue as a holistic topic.
At first, every hospitality and tourism business in a destination is it a Lodge, Guesthouse, B&B, Guest Farm, Hotel, Activity Provider, Activity Provider, Tour Guide, Car Rental provider, and local Tour Operators need to be digitally enabled.
This is why we are working with Tourism Authorities, Tourism Associations and the UNWTO to democratize technology, make it pervasively and inclusively available in a public-private partnership and freemium applications.
It provides a huge competitive advantage for all stakeholders in the destination and makes it seamless and easy for potential travelers to do dream, plan, book and pay for their journey in such an enabled destination.
Alaba: What are the trends to watch in Africa’s tourism ecosystem in 2020?
Thomas: While many countries and destinations such as Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, and others are on the right track and are very dynamic and progressive with all kinds of innovation, digitization and implementing the basis for the 4th industrial revolution, other countries are a bit behind and need to hurry up in order to gain back control of their visibility, digital presence, reputation, communication and distribution for sustainable tourism development.
I know that there are many fancy technologies and some vendors talk about the Internet of Things (IoT) automated check-in/checkout and automated room key on the smartphone etc. However, I am of the belief that we first need to get the basics right and enable the destinations and their hospitality and tourism businesses before we even look at all the fancy and cool technology that might work in a Hotel in New York but not necessarily in an i.e. remote Safari Lodge in Africa. It is also the question if travelers even want this.
Alaba: Could you mention some of your favorite destinations in Africa?
Thomas: This is a very difficult question as every country has its beauty and attraction. You can’t really compare them with each other. This is why “Brand Africa” is an important initiative. We are not 54 countries competing against each other, but 54 countries offering the most diverse, interesting and educational experience in all aspects.
Also Read: Lillian Barnard: Tech Enthusiast And First Female Managing Director, Microsoft South Africa
B I O G R A P H Y
Thomas Müller is an entrepreneur with more than 37 years of experience in IT and more than 16 years in digital marketing and technology in the global hospitality and tourism industry. While working for companies such as IBM, (Mannesman Mobilfunk) Vodafone, TUI, Thomas Cook, amongst others, he was part of opening four Hotels, turning around Hotels and other tourism businesses and started rainmaker digital as a social enterprise TravelTech company in Namibia in 2016.
Thomas had the opportunity of working and living in eight countries around the globe and Southern Africa is his home for more than 10 years. It is his passion to democratize technology for African destinations and its hospitality and tourism businesses to keep more tourism spend in the destination for sustainable tourism development. For the extraordinary achievements of the 5 Stages of Success and the VISTA Destination Network, Thomas and rainmaker were honored with several awards in Europe, the USA, and Africa.
Chantel Cooper: The Epitome of Empathy and Care
Chantel Cooper, CEO of The Children’s Hospital Trust (Image: Supplied)
Chantel joined the Children’s Hospital Trust in 2013 as the Head of Fundraising and Communication and was appointed as CEO in 2019. For her, 2020 was a year that reinforced the importance of the core purpose of the Trust and the difference the organisation wants to make in the lives of children. “Our cause is driven by the need to make a difference in the lives of sick and injured children. We are people who work together to save the lives of the children who matter. We all have a purpose!” she says.
Sharing excerpts from her journey, Chantel says:
“My purpose in life is to serve those who are most vulnerable: women and children. My career was driven by my passion to make a real difference in the lives of women and children. When I was 18 years old, I volunteered for an organisation that provided support for women who had been raped. While volunteering, I started working with women in rural areas in the Eastern Cape where we found opportunities to grow their businesses.
“My passion for women led me to Cape Town where I became Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town when I was 27 years old. After the birth of my two children, I moved to an organisation called St Joseph’s Home for chronically Ill Children. St Joseph’s is a step-down facility for tertiary hospitals like the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. It was a profound move for me as I was able to work with children who inspired me.
“One of the most valuable lessons I learnt is the power of love. You can offer a child the best healthcare in the world, but what a child wants most is their parents to love them and be by their side. This is the value I most appreciate about the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and my past experiences. This hospital believes in child-centered care and knows that a child heals when their parent or caregiver is by their side – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. All other hospitals had restricted access to patients, but the presence of a parent is imperative to their sick or injured child’s healing.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic taught our team that life can change in a blink of an eye and that we need to be prepared for all possibilities. The pandemic hit the world with such speed and velocity that we had no choice but to find a way to not only sail through the storm but also find ways to get out of the situation stronger than before.”
Chantel also states that 2020 provided the Children’s Hospital Trust with the opportunity to learn extraordinary lessons that they would not have normally had the opportunity to learn and some of these include:
- The value of deep listening and the importance of demonstrating kindness.
- Working in collaboration created the opportunity for meaningful impact for our beneficiaries.
- Opportunities do exist during challenging times; positivity exposed the opportunities.
- Adapting to change during uncertain times helped to build a resilient team.
“Our Trust team demonstrated ingenuity, compassion, resilience, commitment, and fortitude during a very difficult time. As a result, we surpassed our goals, and this enabled our organisation to reach more children and families. We are grateful for the contribution from every individual,” adds Chantel.
“Walking through the corridors of a children’s hospital during a crisis gave perspective on the real value of care, kindness, and collaboration. While children were not the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Social Work Department experienced first-hand the profound impact the pandemic had on children’s health and well-being.
“Unemployment, food insecurity, child safety and schooling were common concerns for many patients and their parents who entered the doors of the Hospital. The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital values patient and family-centred care which includes care for the whole family from a holistic perspective.
“In response to the needs of the families, the Trust secured funding to enable the social workers to provide additional counselling services and material support such as the provision of food, hygiene, and home-schooling supplies to vulnerable families when children were discharged from the Hospital.” Read more on the Family Care Project here.
The core to achieving our vision is upholding our values of Integrity, Accountability, Kindness, Dynamism, and Collaboration in every aspect of our work. The Trust has a sound financial record in administration and good governance. For the past 28 years, we have raised funds to address many pressing needs, but much has yet to be done. With the help of many donors, we continue to give hope and healing to our little ones who need it most.
The Trust raises funds for the upgrade and expansion of the Hospital’s buildings, the purchase of state-of-the-art medical equipment, and new medical treatment projects and funds the training of medical professionals across Africa – ensuring that the Hospital not only retains its world-class stature but is able to continue providing life-changing and life-saving care for children.
The Trust relies on donations to fund these needs. When you donate to the Trust, 100% of your donation goes towards funding projects that change children’s lives (and the lives of the people who love them). The operational costs of the Trust are funded from an endowment, so your generous contributions are never used to cover administration costs.
Donate to the Children’s Hospital Trust today! www.childrenshospitaltrust.org.za
Neya Kalu, the new Chairman of The Sun Nigeria
Neya Kalu (Image supplied: Her Network)
Neya Kalu is the Chairman and Publisher of The Sun Nigeria, founded and published in Nigeria. A reputable company that publishes relevant news in Nigeria and around the world in over ten categories. She is also the founder and CEO of Basecoat Nigeria.
Educated at the University of Buckingham with a degree in Law and Finance, Neya leads the Board on strategic matters, establishes high governance, and oversees the company’s business.
Before becoming Chairman/Publisher of The Sun Nigeria, Neya, an entrepreneur, built and runs several successful businesses, the most recent being Base Coat, a nail salon chain in Lagos. She is also the Vice-Chairman of Sun Heavens Hotels and Resorts.
With a strong interest in social issues and a desire to empower women, Neya works with the OUK Foundation to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs one through six.
IoDSA CEO Parmi Natesan on Building Great Directors in South Africa
IoDSA CEO, Parmi Natesan
Established in 1960 as a branch of the Institute of Directors in London, the Institute of Directors South Africa (IoDSA) is a non-profit company (NPC) with members and is the only professional body for directors that is recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) (ID422). IoDSA mission is to influence, develop and advance corporate governance and directorship by pursuing ethical and effective leadership in South Africa. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online (BAO), Parmi Natesan talks about the IoDSA she leads, its contribution to the south african economy, challenges, gender inclusion and diversity and much more. Excerpts.
Alaba: Το begin, brίefly tell us about the loD South Africa and your strategic role?
Parmi: The Institute of Directors in South Africa is a non-profit company and a SAQA-recognised professional body for directors in South Africa. It is also a promoter of corporate governance, acting as convener and secretariat of the King Committee and having ownership of the King Reports on Governance for South Africa.
Its vision is – Better Directors. Better Boards. Better Business.
Its mission is – To influence, develop and advance corporate governance and directorship by pursuing ethical and effective leadership in South Africa.
We drive corporate governance awareness and improvement through thought leadership, hosting learning events, performing governance advisory services and board performance evaluations. We contribute to enhancing the effectiveness of directorship through training and certifications.
Alaba: What would you say are the major contributions of the institυte to the South African economy?
Parmi: The enhancement of corporate governance and directorship has a knock-on positive effect to the South African economy.
Major recent contributions include:
- We submitted a letter written to the Chair of the Zondo Commission containing good governance recommendations for director competencies and appointment processes.
- We issue numerous media releases and broadcast interviews to raise awareness of governance learnings
- We offer discounts on our services to NPOs and SMEs, in an effort to assist them with improving their governance and thus growing and thriving as a business.
Alaba: Since your appointment as the institute CEO, what are your biggest challenges and role in corporate governance?
Parmi: We have a duty to hold our members to account in the public interest. This has meant introduction of a new member code of conduct and disciplinary regulations to govern this. What has been a challenge is that membership of the IoDSA is currently voluntary. An individual does not need to be a member in order to serve as a director. So there is unfortunately no common benchmark or standard for directorship.
Sometimes the IoDSA brand gets tainted by “bad” directors who are found to have acted unethically, as the public does not realise that these directors are not necessarily our members, and thus we have limited mandate to act against them. Another challenge is the way in which corporate governance gets applied in corporations, often in a tick-box compliance fashion. This is form over substance and not conducive to achieving the desired outcomes of good corporate governance. Changing mindsets and behaviour around this is critical and there is no one size fits all solution.
Each organisation needs to consider what makes sense for their business. Instead of wanting to follow a compliance driven approach of ticking boxes, organisations should follow a mindful application approach of putting practices in place that in their judgment ultimately achieve the necessary outcomes of ethical leadership, effective control, good performance and legitimacy. The judgment of the governing body is critical in this approach.
Alaba: What is your view on how leadership is changing, amid broader efforts in society to see greater inclusivίty in terms of race, gender, and socio-economic background, and a move towards making a more positive and sustainable contribution to society?
Parmi: We are advocate for diversity on boards, not only in terms of race, gender and socio-economic background, but also in terms of skills and experience. Diverse groups are able to tackle problems from various angles and this leads to better decision making. We have a specific focus on advocating for more women on boards. With women controlling consumer spending and forming half of the educated workforce, it does not make sense that they are still largely underrepresented in South African boardrooms.
The role of directors is definitely changing as we move towards a more stakeholder focused way of running business. In the past, the primary focus of directors was financial return for their companies. That has changed considerably over the years, where business is now seen as a corporate citizen of the country in which it operates. And it thus needs to be conscious of the impact that it has on society and the environment in which it operates. This is why integrated reporting (as opposed to just financial reporting) is so critical.
In today’s fast-paced world, achieving the right skills as a director is not a target but a journey: business models, socio-economic models, political models – sometimes it seems everything – are changing and old certainties seem to be in the process of continual redefinition. Directors, who play such a critical role in organisations and, indirectly, the fabric of public life, are least able to feel they have achieved the right skills mix.
In general, professionals have a certain credibility and respect in the market, which they need to protect through ongoing learning, adapting and competence.
Alaba: Let’s talk about entrepreneurshίp. What is your view on how female entrepreneurship can be fostered?
Parmi: Entrepreneurship is a critical contributor towards our economy and should thus be fostered.
Alaba: Το what extent can digital connectivity catalyse South Africa’s economic recovery, for example helping foster both flexible working and the levelling-up of rural areas?
Parmi: Digital can open many doors and opportunities for people to participate in economic activity.
Alaba: Before the year ends, what would you ultimately like to achieve?
Parmi: Greater awareness of the power and impact of good corporate governance can make, not only on companies, but also on a country. South Africa as a country desperately needs ethical and effective leaders to steer our country in the right direction to prosper. We have been lobbying for enhancements in director appointment processes in both the private and public sector in South Africa. It would be great to see some traction on this from the policy makers.
Alaba: Lastly, what has been the most significant-ever moment for you professionally – and what advice would you give your younger self?
Parmi: I have received many accolades including:
- Rising Star Award from the Nelson Mandela University.
- Finalist for Businesswoman of the Year at the Top Women Awards.
- Global Woman Achiever at the World Women Leadership Congress.
- Ethical Leadership Award at the SAICA Difference Makers Awards.
However, I think my most significant moment professionally has to be having the privilege and honour to lead the IoDSA. In fact I was the youngest person to be CEO of the IoD SA, and the first ever person of colour. This platform gives me an even louder voice to influence and advocate for ethical and effective leadership in South Africa.
In terms of advice to my younger self, a few things I actually often tell my daughter
- Girls can do anything boys can do – never let our gender hold you back.
- Pick your battles and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Watch IoDSA HERE