SITE South Africa chapter president, Debbie de Villiers is Director of Terra Nova, a destination management company in Southern Africa. She started her career in the hotel industry in 1986 in Johannesburg before re-locating to Cape Town three years later and continued working in the hotel industry before moving into the incentive travel industry in 1997.
"I love Southern Africa because it has soul and her soul is imbedded in mine. Above all, the hospitality and friendliness of the people of Southern Africa is heart-warming. Southern Africa touches people’s hearts in a special way, whether you live here or are visiting. Along with my partner at Terra Nova, Christine and our dynamic team, we are committed to developing exciting ideas to include in our programmes, which include elements that generate a positive energy and offer a beacon of hope for the local people. I value customer relations and enjoy being part of a strong team that has a positive impact on customer retention and sales."
SITE: SITE appreciates that being a Chapter Leader is a volunteer position and requires a significant time commitment. What/who motivated you to assume a SITE Chapter Leader position?
Debbie: SITE Chapter Leader is an elective position and takes place each year at the SITE South Africa Annual General Meeting. I was motivated to take on this role by some of the past Chapter Leaders for whom I have much respect. These leaders have encouraged me to be involved first hand in the many aspects of the Travel, Incentive and Motivation business. Through the many information sessions, discussions and networking opportunities from many sectors of business, i.e. cities, regional and national travel boards, I feel that I have grown as a professional in the industry. This position does require a significant amount of time and commitment and therefore it is important to have the equally committed board of members we have in place to take on various portfolios and support and assist the various events that the Chapter commits to in a year. I intend to grow the chapter by encouraging new members to attend our various events with a specific focus on Youth Development.
SITE: When recruiting new members, what do you tell them are the greatest personal and professional benefits of being a member of SITE?
Debbie: Being a member of SITE is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people in the industry on all levels. By attending networking and educational events they have a platform through which they can learn from colleagues and competitors and share information. They can expand their own visions, and also give back to their employees, employers and communities in different ways. There are many opportunities to attend annual international conferences and summits where business owners speak on various topics relevant to their industry, which improves knowledge and experience. There are also many opportunities to reach out to other members and learn from their experiences or develop business relationships or opportunities.
SITE: What are some of the educational activities and events SITE South Africa is doing to engage current and prospective members?
Debbie: It was SITE South Africa’s aim this year to focus on our young leaders by doing a number of workshops and presentations at various institutions that offer Tourism and Event Management. After the board researched a number of courses offered in the western Cape, it was discovered that very little information on the MICE industry is included in the syllabus and there was a need to provide further education to the students in this area. As key players in the industry, we also agreed that it is our responsibility to support our young leaders and offer them a platform where they can network, learn and obtain internship placements. This way they would be identified for employment opportunities at a later stage.
We started with the Cape Peninsula University of Technology on the 14th April as part of SITE Education week by doing an hour and a half workshop with the 2nd year students. Cape Peninsula University of Technology, located in Cape Town, South Africa, is the only university of Technology in the Western Cape province, and is also the largest university in the province, with over 32,000 students. It was a great success with approximately 70 students present. During the workshop we focused on Business Tourism to highlight the differences between Leisure Travel, Events Incentives, Conferences and Special Interest Groups. We talked them through how we secure business and through a number of fun activities, treats and small gifts they learned the creative and fun side of incentive travel. We will continue with further workshops with Technikon and University Campuses in Cape Town surrounds.
We will also take this a step further by arranging a series of “FAM” Trips and site inspections to enable the students to get a better perspective on the industry. As an incentive to work harder we not only select students that achieve academically but also those put forward by their lecturers as having shown a significant amount of effort towards their studies.
One of the interesting education sessions SITE South Africa had this year was a Hotel GM’s workshop. This very successful session helped to improve insights relevant to business travel and establish guides for a workable solution between Hotel Managers, DMC’s and PCOS’. We intend to arrange similar workshops in the future, which we hope will create a better understanding between groups of people providing services to one another.
We have also started a SITE Social Club, which is open to the industry and purely a networking event to provide an opportunity for members to catch up and discuss their experiences in the industry and engage with potential new members and engage with potential new members.
SITE: What are some of the key opportunities/issues/challenges that are positively or negatively impacting the incentive travel and motivational events industry in your region?
Debbie: On a positive note, more and more Incentives and motivational events are spending time interacting with local communities either with a hands on approach or through other supportive means. It is so important to engage with local people and be educated on their cultural traditions.
One of our greatest challenges is to accommodate all the regions in our destination. Tourist boards engage with our business sector regularly in an attempt to encourage business to their regions – some regions are relatively easy to support due to iconic landmarks, incredible scenery, urban sophistication and exciting activities whereas others although offer wonderful experiences and activities, do not reach the requirements that the incentive industry expects and demands. As much as we would like to support all the unique regions in our destination it is not so easy to convince our clients to move away from the more popular areas.