Transforming backpacking in a transforming country Since South Africa became a democracy, our country has undergone massive transformation in all aspects of our society. All committed South African businesses have had to take a long hard look at their structures, practices and policies to evaluate whether they contribute or hinder the creation of a prosperous, non-racial, non-sexist democratic country.
“Transformation” has become a buzzword in South Africa and encompasses a number of different ideas and approaches. In general, “transformation” refers to the normalizing of the racial and gender composition of the owners, employees and suppliers of a particular business. The system of apartheid ensured that most owners of businesses, including backpacker businesses, in South Africa were white males. Large white-owned corporations have recently been selling shares in their businesses to black shareholders in an effort to transform the ownership of their businesses. Similarly most progressive large companies have quotas in place to ensure that a certain percentage of all their suppliers are black-owned enterprises. These two interventions are generally referred to as being part of the process known as “Black Economic Empowerment” or BEE.
Most corporations have also implemented affirmative action employment procedures and training schemes to ensure that the racial and gender composition of their employees reflect the broader society. One of the major criticisms leveled at BEE in deals over the past few years is that the same few individuals seem to benefit from a wide range of empowerment/transformation deals. It is not uncommon to see the same billionaire businessman become the “disadvantaged” shareholder in businesses ranging from telecommunications to mining to media. A recent outcry against this iniquitous situation has led to the promotion of broad based black economic empowerment” or BBBEE which is more in line with the Malaysian model of redistribution and which seeks to ensure that a much broader section of the black population benefits from the transformation of our economy. For smaller businesses like backpacker lodges, transformation is managed and viewed in different way. Small businesses cannot easily change their ownership structure as they’re normally individually or family owned and thus cannot easily sell a portion of their businesses to outside/black shareholders. Smaller businesses are therefore generally exempted from BBBEE ownership requirements. Nevertheless, BSA is proud that its membership base increasingly reflects the demographics of our country. Some of the largest and most successful of our members are now either partially or wholly black-owned including a number of lodges that have entered into joint venture partnerships with their surrounding poverty-stricken communities. As it is, the women-owned and run lodges are so successful and numerous that very little transformation is needed in this regard. Unlike larger corporations, where BBBEE shareholders have often ended up as silent partners, the hands on nature of the backpacking industry means that the transformation taking place in our industry is truly empowering as new black owners are forced to be actively involved in the running of the businesses. The low level of capital required to enter the backpacking market also means that new black entrepreneurs can enter our segment of the travel industry more easily than any other. The co-operative nature of BSA means that new business are actively assisted by established members as we all realize that our clientele more than any other is searching for the “real” South Africa which reflects all the people of our diverse country. BSA’s members also have an impressive reputation when it comes the employment and training of black staff – particularly in management positions. Even in remote areas where skills are scarce, excellent training programs have ensured that backpackers these days no longer see the country through the eyes of just one section of the population. A number of BSA lodges have completed or are about to complete their Fair Trade in Tourism accreditation. Many BSA members also run excellent community development projects to assist impoverished communities nearby. These project range from projects supporting orphanages and disadvantaged schools, to farming projects, honey projects, blanket making projects, beading projects, small business development projects and many, many others. Most BSA members are involved in one or more projects in their local community and some of these lodges offer free food and accommodation for guests who wish to help. Please enquire at any BSA member for more information. In conclusion, as young (at heart or in years) progressive South Africans we can proudly say that BSA is part of the exciting transformation of our young democracy into a caring society which creates a better life for all. We hope you will come and be part of this revolution by actively participating and supporting our various projects and emerging businesses or by merely chilling on the beach or jumping off a bungy… knowing that you’re contributing to a business and an association that is committed to helping this amazing country achieve its full potential.