Tourism’s leading lady

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), women make up the majority of the tourism workforce in most regions of the world.

In many of these countries, Botswana included, there are more men in management positions than women, who take home peanuts compared to their male counterparts.

Undaunted by this stereotype, Constance Tlhabologo Mbulawa is a leading lady in local tourism.

The impressive Mbulawa is the Managing Director of SKL group of camps, which boasts some of the best camping sites in the country.

Having started off as a typist in a secretarial position,Mbulawa steadily climbed the ladder until she was a front office manager for a big tourism company.

In 2009 she set-up her own company and has not looked back since.

In this interviews, Mbulawa, who is married to the charismatic politician ReabokaMbulawa, tells FRANCINAH BAAITSE-MMANA all about her journey in the topsy-turvy world of tourism.

Q. Tell us about your journey in the tourism industry?

A. I am an ordinary girl from Mmadikola village, near Rakops, in Boteti district.

I started as a typist in Selebi-Phikwe, where I did elementary intermediate and advanced typing courses.

From there I went to Kasane started for my first job in a secretarial company called Kasane Enterprises.

I worked there for about eight years as a typist and eventually did international bookings.

I later moved to DereckJubert, then they were doing photography tourism, filming along the Okavango river.

I was packaging their videos and sending them to other countries.

I later joined Linyanti Explorations, now The Great Banks, where I was doing reservations.

I was promoted to do reservations and accounts before being further promoted to Front Office Manager.

When I left to start my own company in 2009, I was marketing Linyanti Explorations Camps internationally.

Q. Quite a journey then! Tourism is said to be a difficult industry to strike it rich in. What is your secret to success?

A. In tourism, you have to be disciplined, especially when it comes to finances.

This is because there are so many things that you have to pay to the government before you can personally profit or benefit from it.

It is the kind of business that you have to run for years before you can get profit.

Q. So one should have good money before venturing into the tourism business?

A. Not necessarily. It needs money to start up, whether to build a lodge or camp, it is not small money.

Over the years you are forced to pay government levies, royalties to Botswana Tourism Organisation, staff salaries and of course you have to feed your workers and transport them to the lodge.

So there are so many things involved that need payment before you can derive profit.

Q. Walking into your front office, I noticed it was manned completely by women. Are women the face of your company and is that a deliberate move?

A. Yes it is deliberate to see woman as the face of this company.

There are more men in powerful and management positions, especially in politics in this country.

My aim is to change that a bit. At Camp Linyanti, a woman is a manager and assisted by a man; Camp Savuti, camp manager and assistant are women, in the head office here in Maun, the general manager, front office manager, operations, purchasing are all women.

This is because I want to see more women in leadership positions because in other areas, men are in control.

Even if I build new lodges, I will do the same thing.

Q. But then where is the gender balance, are you not putting men at a disadvantage?

A. I am trying to balance, but in my company I do not want to go 50:50, because that is not my aim.

My aim is to push women to the top and there is no way it is ever going to be a 50:50 ratio here.

Currently ours is 60:40 because there are other jobs that women cannot do.

Q. Where do you want to see your company in five years time?

A. I want to see my company being one of the biggest in the tourism business in Maun.

As you maybe aware, Maun is known as the tourism hub, so I want to see my company as one of the best, just like Wilderness Safaris and others.

I want to see myself in the circuit of these big companies.

Right now I am put at par with them, but I am not yet as big as them.

I need to expand, having 300 to 500 employees.

Lack of employment is one of the challenges we are facing as a country and I want to see myself creating more jobs and opportunities for others and contributing to the development of this country.

I want to see these young people able to leave my company and starting their own and creating employment for others.

Q. Commendable!

A. Since we started operations in 2009, I mentored two young Batswana women.

They had no previous training so I taught them reservations and after working for five years, they moved on and started their own companies and they are doing well.

So I want to see more young Batswana making it in this industry.

Q. Any words of encouragement to women out there who may be wishing to venture into tourism?

A. Women are incredible creatures, they can do anything!

We are supposed to be leaders – we are born leaders so there is nothing we cannot do.

God created us that way. We are naturally managers.

From the very beginning, God created a man and a woman from his rib, so that the woman can manage the man.

We are managers so we havethat wisdom that surpasses that of those we manage.

Women can do anything to provide for their family and children, so they cannot fail in this industry.

Q.Talking of management, how do you find managing your politician husband, parliamentary hopeful,ReabokaMbulawa?

A. It is very, very interesting.

To manage a politician is an extremely difficult thing; it is even more difficult than managing over 100 staff members, like I am doing right now.

I manage more than 100 staff but it is so difficult to manage him, more so that he deals with a lot of people and people come to him to seek assistance.

Because he is a leader, he is in the spotlight.

I always have to really be on top of everything!

Q. What is your reaction when you see him with other women? Does it not make you jealous?

A. Of course, in as much as I am a woman and do certain duties, managing people and that, at the same time I am a human being.

I am a mother, I am a wife; I do everything that is expected of a wife and daughter in law.

After work, I put my company title aside.

I go home and cook for him and make sure that in the morning I iron his clothes and see to it that he is dressed in a manner befitting public appearance.

I make sure that his car is okay and all.

But when I leave the house, I become his manager and his support and pillar.

When he says he has a headache, I have to run. When he says ‘MmaMbulawa I need something right now, I have visitors,’ I drop everything, because I have to be there.

Sometimes I find him surrounded by women who need help and maybe more beautiful than me, I have to remember that, here I am not the wife, collect myself and say here I am just a manager.

I pretend to be his Personal Assistance (PA) and ask ‘what do you need?’

Some demand the impossible, for instance saying they have nothing to eat at home or their children have no shoes or something, when my child has no shoes as well!

In that situation I don’t have to be emotional about it, I have to wait to hear from the one I am managing first before I step in.

Q. Sounds tricky! So, when you are not working, what do you enjoy doing?

A. I love going to church and the farm.

When I grew up I did not like livestock, especially cattle.

I only loved small stock, but all of a sudden I love cattle.

Any free time I get, I think of rushing to the farm.

When I get there, I feel free.

I can think more freely; there is fresh air, there are cattle around, there are boreholes, sound of birds and cows, it is just so refreshing!

I also love going on holiday with my family.

Q. And finally, Thank God it’s Friday, what are you up to this weekend?

A. My weekends are as normal as any other day.

I work every single day.

I do try to create balance in my life however.

Like I have said, I am a mother, a daughter, and a wife to somebody so I have to create time for them on weekends.

I have a farm to manage as well.

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