Cameron Murray and Kylie Henn from Traditional African Homestay (TAHS-SA) proudly display the trophies and awards they won during the annual Lilizela Tourism Awards.
Date: 02 December 2018 By: Andries van Zyl
When two local tourism entrepreneurs stopped for a beer at Makushu Tavern, they would never have thought that it would be the start of a unique friendship with the local community that would see them scoop up two of the South African tourism industry’s top awards.
This is exactly what happened to Cameron Murray and Kylie Henn of Traditional African Homestays (TAHS-SA). On 14 November this year, the duo scooped up the top awards in both the Roots & Culture and “I do Tourism” category of the annual Lilizela Awards, making them the top tourism experience in South Africa.
The question is, what sets the duo’s business apart from other homestay initiatives?
Basically, TAHS-SA aims to create a real, authentic cultural experience for their visitors by means of rural homestays at a number of families in the village of Makushu near the Nzhelele Dam, just north of the Soutpansberg. The venture is a joint one between TAHS-SA and the Makushu-Musholombi community.
“The idea, as well as the way in which we do the homestays, is unique to this area. Homestays have been in South Africa for quite some time, but what happens is that someone would start it up and then they would just leave, so it was not working. We’ve got a whole new way, or recipe, of looking at it. We are very much involved, constantly, with the community,” said Kylie during an interview with the Zoutpansberger on Monday.
Cameron added to this. “Our vested interests are theirs … Obviously, our idea and goal are to use tourism as a vehicle to uplift the communities, but it also needs to be profit-driven for us. So, previously you had NGOs going in and they build one or two huts. They would get the community involved, run a number of workshops and then would say: Ok run it! But they haven’t given them [the community] the necessary tools to make a project like that sustainable. So, our interest is very much to get this community up and running with the correct skills to make it sustainable. We don’t just say: ‘Ok, cheers guys!’” he said.
Both Cameron and Kylie come from tourism backgrounds. A couple of years ago they started talking about the idea of homestays, but initially the idea sounded a bit farfetched. Nonetheless, the two drew up a concept and started arranging meetings with local municipalities to introduce them and the idea to local communities. “It was, however, such a lengthy process that one Saturday we just decided we were going,” said Kylie.
The two got into their car and started driving. “We drove through just to see what was happening and it was that time of the afternoon that we really thought a beer would be a good idea. We saw Makushu Tavern and we got out there, in the middle of nowhere, and we started talking to the people. And that was it,” said Kylie.
Since this first meeting, Cameron, Kylie and the Makushu-Musholombi community have become a family. “And even though TAHS-SA is a company, when we engage with the community it is such a close relationship that we’ve become a family. They are not even colleagues, they become a brother or a sister. So, that is what is different. It is not like we go in, do something, and then we leave ... We are quite lucky because the community is, like, 500% on board since the beginning,” said the duo.
“The other part of the recipe why our homestays work and others didn’t, is because we spread the profit out in the community,” said Kylie. “For example, guests come in, they stay at Emma’s, but they have lunch at Rina’s and they have breakfast at Anna’s. There are also local guides, so it is a complete community initiative. Also, in the months that we do not have guests visiting, we arrange workshops on social development, education…” added Kylie.
As for profit sharing, Cameron explained it as follows: “What would happen is, if we have a homestay and say they pay a R100, as TAHS-SA we would purchase all the food for the homestay, the homestay mother would get a portion of the money, the guides get a portion of it, all the activity hosts get a portion of that R100 and then Gondoliswa will get a percentage of that and a percentage will fall to Tshikhala.”
Tshikhala and Gondoliswa are two NG’s the duo established to further promote skills development and upliftment. “So, there is a bigger picture,” said Cameron, explaining his and Kylie’s vision for similar communities across South African. “Tshikala, meaning ‘opportunity’ in Venda, will be the skills development NGO for these communities. Gondoliswa, meaning ‘new beginnings’ in Venda, is the communities’ NGO and fund on which is seated all the heads of the NGOs in the community, the royals, two elders and a few other community members. The fund contributes to the old age centre, the community crèche and the drop-in centre,” said Cameron.
At present, 25 families in the village of Makushu are offering day and overnight stays to tourists. In addition to those, nine local tour guides and ten plus activity hosts also provide services. TAHS-SA, who handles the bookings, offers package deals to the village. “They [tourists] would go through to the community and would spend a whole day there, taking part in activities, traditional lunch etcetera, which includes arts and crafts, traditional dancing, traditional floor making, actually coming through to the crèche and reading to the kids. That is also what sets the experience apart. Nothing is planned. It’s whatever happens – a day in the life of a Makushu resident,” said Cameron.
Currently, the bulk of homestay bookings are from Germany and the Netherlands. Kylie said that winning the two Lilizela awards had now created an even bigger international platform for them and they expected a lot more bookings for 2019. For the immediate future, they are looking at expanding TAHS-SA’s homestay initiative to a village near Phalaborwa, close to the KNP border and near Blouberg, as well as promoting the tourist experience in the local markets.
So how do people book? “We have two channels. You can book directly through Traditional African Homestays (http://tgchomestays.com) or we’ve linked up with agents. One is in Cape Town (Abang Africa Travel) and one is in the Netherlands … and you can book packages with them. Typically, travellers will want to come to South Africa for 10 or 21 days and Abang Africa Travel creates a full package and links the two- or three-night homestays,” said Cameron.
For more information, visit TAHS-SA’s website at the above e-mail address, or phone Kylie at Tel 079 792 7536.
Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.
A couple of tourists enjoy breakfast with one of the homestay families at Makushu Village. Photo supplied.
One of the many activities for tourists visiting the Makushu-Musholombi community is traditional African floor making. Photo supplied.
What makes a TAHS-SA homestay at Makushu Village unique is that nothing is planned for visitors. Tourists are literally exposed, and take part, in the day-to-day activities of villagers. Photo supplied.