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The View Guesthouse: Sheila Sekhitla

A former nurse creates a tourist destination for international guests in the heart of tembisa

Juliet Pitman

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Sheila Sekhita of The View Guesthouse

Sheila Sekhitla doesn’t believe in doingthings in small measures. This powerhouse of energy was a professional nursebefore she entered the hospitality industry by converting her home in Tembisainto The View Guesthouse. A mother of three who had just lost her husband, shemanaged to build it up into a four-star establishment that now caters tointernational guests and hosts a conferencing venue for 200 people – allwithout funding or experience.

Today, Sekhitla has a string of awards toher name, and was recently appointed to the Board of the Tourism GradingCouncil of South Africa. She was nominated as the secretary of Tembisa Chamberof Commerce in 1994, became General Secretary of NAFCOC Gauteng in 1998 and isthe founding member and chairperson of Tembisa Tourism Association.It is clear that she is daunted by very fewthings; if the obvious solution to a challenge doesn’t work out, Sekhitlasimply finds another one.Take her approach to funding, for example.She couldn’t get the financial sector to finance her business and recalls:“They were nervous about supporting a new business, especially one that waslocated in the heart of a township.” So she made do with what she had in thefamily home to provide for her first guests.

“I used the plates and teaspoons that wehad,” she laughs. But if she started out small and simple,there was one thing Sekhitla never scrimped on – service. “I was so good atcaring for people and providing service excellence that word got around aboutthe guesthouse and people started coming to stay. After about a year, I had alittle bit of money which I used to print some brochures,” she explains,adding: “I reinvested everything back into the business.” She expanded theguesthouse from four rooms to nine and bought the adjacent property toestablish a 200-person conference centre that allowed her to attract corporateclients.She also invested a great deal of time andeffort into educating the local community about the value of tourism. “This wasanother huge challenge. When I started, the local community didn’t understandthe value of tourism so they didn’t support me,” she says. With characteristicdrive, she set about educating her target market, mobilising the community tostart the Tembisa Tourism Association. “I researched all the places of interestin Tembisa and convinced Atlas Buses to give me a bus for the day, which I usedto take 45 community members on a tour of the places of interest.

I wanted toteach them about tourism and show them what Tembisa had to offer,” sheexplains. She also managed to get the then Chairperson of the EnvironmentalAffairs and Tourism Portfolio Committee, Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, to attend aseminar to educate the community further. The hard work paid off in huge dividends.Tembisa had a burgeoning tourism industry and The View Guesthouse became sosynonymous with excellence that Sekhitla won the 2002 Emerging TourismEntrepreneur of the Year Award (ETEYA). “This enabled me to gain access to theoverseas visitors market. The South African Tourism Authority took me to Londonand Germany where I marketed myself to international guests,” she explains.

Success bred success and more awardsfollowed, including the AA Accommodation Award, the Ekhuruleni BusinessInitiative (EBI) Award for Involvement in the Tourism Sector and an Eskom GoldAward for Best Stand at the 2006 Franchise Exhibition. Sekhitla was alsonominated as a torchbearer by the MEC for Tourism and Environmental Affairs.Eventually, the much-needed funding followed in the form of assistance from theGauteng Tourism Authority, the Department of Trade and Industry and the EskomDevelopment Foundation, and Sekhitla managed to secure a small but vitaloverdraft.When asked what her secret is, she answerssimply: “Passion – for people, for service excellence and for the hospitalityindustry lifestyle. You can’t succeed in this industry without passion.”

She now has her sights set firmly on the2010 World Cup and plans to make the most of the tourism opportunities it willbring. “We want to establish a wellness centre and health spa at theguesthouse,” she says. There’s little doubt that this dynamo of business savvyis more than up to the challenge. Contact: +27 11 926 1731; www.theviewguesthouses.co.za

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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