The African tourism industry is slowly seeing increasing numbers of female voices that are successfully running their own businesses. One of these is Jacqui Taylor, Founder of Rural Tourism Africa and CEO of Agritourism South Africa. The two operate as a combined association and is the only Agritourism association in Africa, dedicated to “building a strong and recognizable brand that stands for integrity”.
Born in Cape Town, South Africa, she founded the two organisations in 2016, and six years down the line, they continue to make an impact across the continent.
Projects spread across the African continent including Adanwomase Kente Cloth & Ecotourism Centre (Ghana), Tshwane Green Heritage Route (South Africa), Lanyula Sustainable Rural Project (Zimbabwe), COBATI (Community Based Tourism Initiative) based in Uganda and others.
Rural Tourism Africa connects tourists to role players in agri-tourism. As an information hub, it brings to the public tourism activities on farms around Africa, making it easy for local and international tourists to effectively plan their itineraries to these farms.
Also available to members are things like advice and guidance, marketing and promotions, and access to governmental, tourism and organized agricultural institutions.
“The motivation behind the founding of the two organisations is that Africa as a continent is predominately agricultural produce focused. However over the past several decades, many of those who grew up in rural areas had to find employment in cities. I wanted to create employment opportunities through tourism, particularly for rural women and the youth,” says Jacqui Taylor.
The niche markets for both organisations is growing despite the Covid pandemic became a reality in our lives. However, she explains that it was difficult to quantify as there has been insufficient research on the rural tourism market.
Her biggest achievement in the African tourism sector has been to place Agritourism/Rural Tourism on the Agenda list – rural tourism in Africa makes not only economic sense but incorporates access to every aspect of a country that differentiates itself from another country e.g. heritage; culture and so on.
Highlights have been the phenomenal hospitality, warmth and friendships of people she has met in rural communities within and outside of Africa.
She doesn’t specifically view being a woman as a hurdle but appreciates the cultural differences that one needs to adapt to the situation at hand.
Asked whether more women are taking the initiative to venture into and are well represented in tourism, she said “Yes and no, Women make strong, but empathetic leaders. Many women though remain ’trapped in supporting roles.”
She advises that women seeking to break through in hospitality and tourism need to be passionate about making a difference in whatever they do, persevere and be a pillar of strength to those who see you as a mentor.
Something of concern to her is that “Rural tourism does not receive the support it should. The tourism industry refers to sustainability in revenue and numbers, but sustainability should be far more inclusive”, she said.
Jacqui has had a long standing connection with agriculture as a child born to parents who were farm managers, describing them as “very socially proactive in empowering farm workers. They did not ‘talk’, they ‘did’. Our lives were focused on the farm life – hard work, perseverance and determination – ‘grit’. A ‘just do’ approach in our lives was our backbone of our family.”
Her personal goal as a female leader of the tourism industry is to focus on fast tracking rural tourism. She says that with cities around the world becoming overpopulated and services under constant threat of malfunction, a healthy rural economy is imperative for many reasons, food security being an obvious need.
Motivated by a desire to “live rural tourism development” she believes there is no separation between her personal and work life. Rural tourism is her passion and she would not want to do anything else, she says.
With the lockdown restrictions, Rural Tourism Africa and Agritourism South Africa suffered the same losses as other tourism/hospitality businesses. In rural areas though, the strength of support amongst communities for each other was remarkable – ‘ubuntu’ was physically evident – rural communities, from farmers to service providers, rallied round to help one another.
In the next 5 to 10 years she sees Rural Tourism Africa and Agritourism South Africa impacting communities more. “Sustainability is the bottom line, not just financially for rural tourism service providers, but for inclusivity of rural communities in tourism initiatives. The backbone of a country is agricultural and will increasingly become so with climate change and food security high up on the list of priorities, by business and government. Sustainability is not about having ’solar power’ versus ‘Eskom-supplied electricity’ – it is far broader than the environment, we need to focus on people when we talk sustainability.”
“Services are supplied to people who live in countries. The old-stereotype of tourism should have died long before Covid became a reality in everyone’s life. The only way forward is inclusivity.”