It’s the New Year and we have a new AAVEA board member to introduce! Join us in welcoming the esteemed Hulisani Thabela, Acting Divisional Head of Tshwane Tourism to our attractions team.

We chatted to Hulisani recently about her exciting new position and her optimistic views on the attractions industry:

Congratulations on your appointment to the AAVEA board! What are you most looking forward to doing and achieving in your new position?

Hulisani: I’m excited to share the AAVEA platform and encourage other professionals to join and gain from world-class best practices in attractions management.

What inspired you to want to work with the AAVEA board and organisational team?

Hulisani: I was inspired by all of the insights and resources I got from attending AAVEA events and seeing the opportunity to help make a difference with our local Tshwane tourism attractions. The board of AAVEA is made up of highly motivated and passionate attractions professionals who give their personal and professional contribution and I wanted to be a part of the mission of unlocking the potential that attractions have.

The concept of attractions and attractions management is quite new to South Africa. When did you realise your site was an attraction and how did that impact your operations?

Hulisani: At the City of Tshwane, we’re transitioning from a facilities management approach towards holistic attractions management by benchmarking and exposing our attractions managers to organisations such as AAVEA and the professional resources available through international bodies like IAAPA.  We own and manage many attractions from museums to galleries, nature reserves and resorts, which are part of our service to our communities. The impact they have on the quality of life of our residents demands that we constantly look to improve our operations to deliver the best experiences – with very limited resources.

We’re in what was usually our peak season in the second year of the pandemic.  What have you learnt about your visitors during this time and how are you adapting your attractions’ operations?

Hulisani: Most of our visitors during the pandemic have been locals or residents, who are very loyal to their favourite attractions -but we’ve seen an uptick in traffic from neighbouring cities in Gauteng as people looked for intra-provincial travel and leisure options during the lockdowns. The patterns changed of course to reflect visitors’ need to escape congested spaces and to reconnect with nature and just enjoy outdoors and socially-distant activities such as hiking, picnics, game drives etc. So Groenkloof Nature Reserve, Rietvlei Nature Reserve, Dinokeng Game Reserve, Hennops Hiking Trails, Cullinan Adventure Zone and many other outdoor spots quickly became lockdown-favourites in Tshwane. The challenge then is to retain this new client base by offering them new reasons to keep coming back.

We’ve rolled out cashless payment options and booking systems at our municipal nature reserves and resorts to encourage our patrons to book in advance in order to avoid disappointment as we try to manage visitor numbers to adhere to COVID19 protocols. Rietvlei Nature Reserve, for example, is known to reach its visitor capacity by as early as 6am – that’s how popular it is with our residents!

What advice do you have for smaller attractions?

Hulisani: I’d say we need to embrace and invest in digital marketing and business solutions; and that our domestic market is our bedrock. If we ensure the visitor experience is top-notch for this market, it will stand us in good stead when the international market eventually returns.