African Travel & Tourism Entrepreneurship: a Female Perspective

African Travel & Tourism Entrepreneurship: a Female Perspective

For the current blog I am delighted to interview the amazing Chantelle Cole, Executive Manager: Strategic Projects and Brand at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Chantelle tells us about her career and why she believes female entrepreneurs are key to Africa’s tourism.


Tell us about your career to date and what do you love about where you are now…

I’ve spent most of my career in business strategy, marketing and communication in South Africa, with a two year stint abroad working in the luxury hospitality sector. I’ve been with the V&A Waterfront for close on nine years now. Everything the business stands for resonates with me. It’s a place that welcomes everyone, a place where opportunity is realised and a place that is world-class and utterly representative of the best of our city, country and continent.

My portfolio is diverse, ranging from tourism development to business strategy and stakeholder relations. It gives me the opportunity to have both a local and international perspective, which is very stimulating. Every day is different and the role always challenges me to learn, to grow and to give back.


You work extensively with entrepreneurs, please tell us: what do you think are the key challenges facing women entrepreneurs in particular?

I have a sense that what holds women entrepreneurs back is what at times holds many women in business back – an understanding of how to create their own space in a business environment that is still quite male dominated and hierarchical. Being seen as an equal can be challenging, both for women to recognise their own equality and at times, for men to recognise this too.

Not every woman (or man) has the benefit of growing up in an environment that is enabling and empowering. In some parts of society, there is still very much a sense that women can only hold certain roles. There are school networks, university networks, sporting networks that some sectors of society can more easily leverage than others. Opportunities for funding, networking, collaboration and overall support can be more limited for women than men. And women are largely expected to be the primary caregivers and organisers of the home. So balancing personal commitments with starting a business and the long hours it takes can be exceptionally challenging.

In the same breath I feel quite fortunate that I am in an environment where evidence of what women can achieve is visible, where women led business in the V&A help it to make significant and ongoing economic contribution to the City of Cape Town, the Western Cape and the country.


What do you think women need to thrive as entrepreneurs and how can organisations like yours help?

Women want opportunity, and equal footing….to put their talent to use and benefit from it. The V&A Waterfront in that regard has a long-established track record as a platform for entrepreneurship across every sector found in its precinct.

Many entrepreneurs are also exceptionally talented people but may lack business skills; they are artists, musicians, designers, talented crafters, and not necessarily HR practitioners, finance people, administrators. Many entrepreneurs need more guidance on the business basics, to help their businesses flourish and go to the “next level”.  And so we are continually working on programs to help supplement entrepreneurs’ knowledge and find ways for them to leverage the many connections that exist within the V&A Waterfront itself.


In your experience is the travel and tourism industry in Africa any different or better at supporting women?

In my view, African women are very much recognised as the backbone of society. While there is clearly a growing value being placed on gender diversity, women still struggle with what it means to thrive, in a predominantly male-dominated business world.

My experience within the hospitality and broader tourism sector however has been one of absolute support, collaboration and connection. Women are constantly proving themselves to be pioneering in surprising and delightful ways. Women also want to help each other, are happy to share knowledge and networks and “look out” for one another. Women actively grow one another in this space. It’s a sector I hope to spend more of my career in because of the quality of the relationships and the opportunities to grow and develop.


As a woman in business what would be your key tips for other women starting their career now?

Business – and life – is all about relationships with peers, with people working for you and the people you work for and with. Focus your efforts on building deep, respectful and diverse relationships. Remember a relationship is reciprocal; it is not for what you can gain from knowing someone. Don’t be afraid of deep-end situations; people generally can see more of your strengths than you can. And while clichéd it’s so true – failure is the best teacher, embrace it. Showing your humanity makes it far easier for people to want to connect with you and support you. Vulnerability is one of the greatest strengths you have. This has been one of my hardest life lessons to learn, and one of the most valuable ones to date too.


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Alessandra is founder of social enterprise Women in Travel CIC which she launched in January 2017 to provide communities in key regions (for example UK, Middle East, Africa and Latin America) with a sustainable livelihood by enabling women to become economically independent through entrepreneurship and a thriving career in the travel and tourism industry. Alessandra is also Chief Mentor & Consultant at Everyday Mentor, where she provides mentoring, coaching and consulting services to a range of clients in the commercial and public sector. Alessandra also collaborates with a number of Universities, including Hertfordshire, Normandy and Surrey. Alessandra is passionate about gender in tourism and has written and spoken extensively on the subject over the last 12 years, including at the United Nations World Tourism Day. She is well known as co-founder of Shine People and Places – a boutique outfit dedicate to supporting women in the workplace - and The Shine Awards for Women Achievements in Travel Tourism Hospitality and Events, which she ran between 2004 and 2010 before Sector Skills Council People 1st took them over. Prior to Shine Alessandra worked at KPMG, where she built the Travel & Tourism division, and the World Travel and Tourism Council. Alessandra has an executive MBA from the University of Ediburgh/Grande Ecole Pons combined; she is a qualified coach/mentor for performance in the workplace and she is a member of several industry bodies including AWTE and the UK Tourism Society.

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