Ninety small businesses, or ‘Hidden Gems’, in South Africa have been chosen to make their sponsored debut at Indaba this year, courtesy of the National SME Market Access project, an initiative funded by the National Department of Tourism and executed by SA Tourism in partnership with Satsa.

The selection process was rigorous and the SMEs had to present their offerings to a panel, after which 90 were selected out of an initial number of about 300. The businesses were selected based on the relevance of their product and their potential to be sold into the international market.

The selected businesses hail from each of the nine provinces and range from safari tour operators to adventure tourism experiences, from African day spas to township restaurants, from B&Bs to boutique hotels, and from horse riding operations to helicopter rides.

Satsa Chief Operating Officer, Hannelie du Toit explained that the 300 businesses received initial training in their respective provinces. They were shown how to enter the tourism channel by being priced right; how to negotiate contracts with the trade; and how to sell their offering. The training also included elements to assist them in running their businesses effectively after Indaba.

At the trade show, their offerings will be grouped according to the themes Cultural Roots, Active Adventure and City Lifestyle. The SMEs will also have the opportunity to set up meetings with international buyers and other delegates via the online diary system.

The aim of the initiative was to broaden the variety of tourism products on the market while upskilling and empowering black-owned small enterprises that operated in this sphere, said South African Tourism Chief Executive, Sisa Ntshona. “It’s crucial for the health and evolution of our sector that we help to incubate start-ups and small businesses, especially those that add new, authentic flavours to our country’s tourism platter.”

The SMEs are enthusiastic about the opportunities that have been opened up by their participation in the Hidden Gems market access initiative. It has enabled them to meet and network with each other, with several forging partnerships and planning new ventures and tour routes together.