Durban - National Tourism Minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, is encouraged by how small businesses are creating employment in the tourism sector.
The Emerging Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year Award (ETEYA), which has become one of the key features at the Tourism Indaba, honours small tourism businesses around the country.
This year North West's Kagiso Legobe and his Kay 2ze Gee Tours was the winner of the coveted 2011 ETEYA.
Legobe's passion for hiking, camping and animal conservation started in high school when he joined the Animal Conservation Club.
His interest in nature conservation and tourism was sparked during hiking, camping and visits to South Africa's game parks.
After seeing the gap in the North West province for adventure-focused tour operators, he decided to start his own adventure and exploration company, which also offers learnerships to tourism graduates and gives motivational talks to school children, encouraging them to enter the tourism industry.
Legobe's company lists its number one priority as "keeping our customers delighted and satisfied".
"Small businesses, such as those involved in the ETEYA programme, are the key to our sustainability as a tourism sector and I would like to congratulate Kagiso and all the provincial finalists.
"It is certainly encouraging to witness first-hand the effects of our efforts to create sustainable businesses that are actively contributing to the growth of not only the tourism sector, but the national economy as a whole" said van Schalkwyk.
Thandiwe January-McLean, South African Tourism's CEO also hailed Legobe for his determination and commitment.
"Kagiso's passion and commitment to developing young South Africans and encouraging them to join the tourism industry is particularly encouraging, given our country's great emphasis on job creation and sustainability in the tourism sector," said January-McLean.
She added: "Kagiso has shown great determination to succeed in the competitive tourism industry and is a worthy ETEYA winner. We highly commend his efforts in carving out a niche for his business and also would like to congratulate all the ETEYA provincial finalists, who have been excellent tourism ambassadors".
Selecting an ETEYA winner is no easy task and includes a rigorous year-long judging process, which included aspects such as leadership, strategic planning, marketing, customer service, social responsibility, financial performance, facilities and appearance are taken into account.
Leboge's prize includes a R100 000 cash injection into his business and an intensive 12-month mentorship programme facilitated by Tourism Enterprise Partnership (TEP).
TEP Chief Executive Officer, Salifou Siddo, believes the mentorship will benefit Leboge, and businesses similar to his, to prosper into fully-functional SMME's.
"As TEP we are committed to ensuring our valued SMME entrepreneurs are effectively supported in their long-term commitments to servicing the South African tourism industry. ETEYA is a fine example of the successes and job creation opportunities that arise from successful public-private partnership aimed at benefiting the industry," said Siddo.
ETEYA started in 2001 and is an initiative of SA Tourism, in partnership with the nine provincial tourism authorities, TEP and South African Breweries.
It is aimed at developing and sustaining SMME's in the tourism sector and enhancing job creation. A recent research project undertaken by SA Tourism showed an impressive 70 percent increase in job creation opportunities were recorded by ETEYA finalists between 2001 and 2010.