Women in Travel CIC has the honour of supporting many incredible Women, whose knowledge, inspirational stories and love for the travel industry strengthen our global community and inspire change for the better.
Chantal Potgieter joined our Male Allyship Network in Cohort 1 2021. She was looking to connect with women who were self-starters in the travel business and a mentor who would support her on the journey of a UK Tour Operator offering trips to Africa. Fast forward to today, to celebrate Black History Month, she is sharing with us her uplifting journey and motivating words for everyone when times get hard but you know you must keep going!
Can you share a bit about your personal journey and what inspired you as a leader in your industry?
One of my earliest dreams was to become an air hostess. I was curious about the world beyond our local community. We lived very close to the airport and I have memories of watching airplanes land at Cape Town International Airport knowing that I wanted to pursue a career in aviation. But back then, it was the Apartheid laws and non-whites were not allowed to study or work in most industries. Growing up in Cape Town I was unaware of how popular South Africa became to travellers all around the world, yet far away from the local people. It was only about 6 years ago when working at a travel agency, the tourism industry opened up my eyes to the many possibilities.
Before then, I worked in Youth and Community development for years and from the start I thought how wonderful it would be to connect travellers to the South Africa I know. Themba Travel was created to explore the hidden gems, to offer visitors an experience inspired by the local communities and to share what they value with travellers. It took some time crafting and co-creating this type of travel, but I wanted to sell more than holidays… I wanted to promote transformational travel. Something that would change the lives of both the traveller and the destination. Moreover, I wanted everyone to know that it was a possibility and that travel can be used to uplift, empower and improve people’s lives.
What do you consider to be your most significant achievement, and how do you feel this achievement has impacted or influenced the broader black community?
I didn’t think that I achieved anything significant until someone just recently told me that as a woman, a woman of colour and as a UK tour operator you are already ‘breaking barriers’ I had to let that sink in for a while and almost immediately felt…overwhelmed! But the ‘WHY’ brought me back to focus and kept me centred. And the why still is, to change the lives of both travellers and destinations, for the better. It hasn’t been an easy ride, especially when I registered the business in 2019…who knew what was to follow? With travel at a full stop, I had to stay visible and be consistent. I had nothing other than my laptop and my face! Only by being visible, doing Facebook Lives, and webinars, and keeping ahead with travel news, I found myself in the broader black community. And consistency, compounds! Several women, especially those from black communities, approached me, asking many questions like what I do, how I did it and also being surprised by what they thought South Africa was all about. To say the least, I was surprised that there were not many black professionals or owners of travel businesses.
Can you talk about some of the challenges you faced on your path to leadership, and how did you overcome them?
The path to leadership is plain…LEAD. When I realized that I might be the only one leading transformational travel to South Africa, I had to make a decision. If I don’t do it, who will? And with making that decision, comes challenges. Probably the biggest one is to lead yourself. Being intentional, being consistent and setting expectations for yourself. I have to re-visit every time what my intentions are, be consistent when things just don’t happen and set expectations so that I can work towards my
goals. To be honest, the fruit of everything in life begins with a challenge, nothing is easy, it is not going to fall in your lap, and everything worthwhile is uphill.
I have faced many challenges, my limited knowledge about the industry, the lack of
funding, no resources, no mentor, no one who has done this before, no network…the
list goes on, but one by one I have to look for all of those things. And yes, it comes with trying one thing and then the other, it just comes with the territory. Leadership also comes with failure, but that’s how we learn. Setting aside time to learn, and improving your knowledge, means you are improving yourself.
What advice do you have for black individuals aspiring to become leaders, especially in the face of adversity?
I really had nothing other than this dream of changing the narrative, of using travel as a force for good. I wanted to create a platform to empower youth and women in the industry, amplifying their voices and celebrating them especially those from marginalized communities. My advice…Start! ‘You have to start because of what you don’t have, and you start from where you are’ Getting started is the key.
I have a commitment to intentionally grow, so invest in yourself because you can’t give what you don’t have. Every year, identify the areas you want to grow in, at least 2 areas. Area of choice AND an area of skill (invest 1 hour a day in those 2 areas). For example, an area of skill could be to be a ‘better communicator’ and an area of choice could be ‘exercise, find a hobby away from business’ And try to do this every day.
Nobody knows everything. Ask questions. I had to learn to ask questions and ask for help if I needed help. Put your ego aside and remember, many have started this way, you are not the only one. Asking questions also helps you to understand better what people think, and what they want and most importantly, it keeps you teachable and humble.
How do you think the conversation around diversity and inclusion has evolved during your time as a leader?
I think the pandemic brought many things to the surface and people started thinking about what was important to them. A good thing about such a horrific time was that so many wanted to make things better for themselves and for others. Organizations, companies and businesses realized change was needed and while many have actioned those well-meaning intentions, there is still so much to do. I think it moved the needle slightly, but not much. What is encouraging is that many platforms have been created to talk about issues like diversity, equity and inclusion and this is a good step in the right direction.
What steps do you believe are crucial in promoting diversity and inclusion in your
Constant and continuous conversations! When we discuss issues, when we sit and talk, with respect for each other, we will undoubtedly start to understand each other. I am also weary that we don’t speak for others, and give opportunities for all voices to be heard. As a tour operator, we also need to show representation to diverse audiences through our media/advertising channels. I do believe the Male Allyship Network mentorship program has been a game-changer! It has helped me tremendously in my journey. It is such a powerful tool to have experienced, successful travel allies help navigate the way, assisting, supporting and cheering for women.
Connect with Chantal: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chantal-potgieter-484b871aa/
Themba Travel: https://thembatravel.com/