SAYTC conference

The sixth annual SAYTC Youth and Adventure Travel Conference was held in Soweto this year, chosen  with SAYTC’s objective in mind to move the AGM to a different province each time – and especially to an area that is not frequented by the masses… off the beaten track, as it were. This helps to eradicate stigmas and stereotypical ideas of that particular setting, as well as showcasing the area’s products. Once again, the conference was a roaring success, with delegates praising the organisation during the program and post-conference for the efficiency with which things were run, the quality and pertinence of the speakers, the chosen location, and the parties (oh, the parties!). We are really pleased that so many members decided to attend, thank those who travelled from near and far to make it, and want to express that we could not have pulled it off without your attendance, and enthusiasm. Coming with an open mind is essential to making the experience richer, and we certainly feel that the experience was as rich as it could have been!

The aims of the SAYTC Conference

The aims of the SAYTC Conference are still to:

  • get maximum participation from all our members from all over South Africa;
  • bring members to an area off the beaten track and support local industry in that location;
  • provide networking opportunities so that members can support one another;
  • form long lasting relationships, both professionally and socially;
  • have informative and industry-related topics and speakers;
  • have open forum discussions about pertinent issues;
  • and, without question, to have an enjoyable time!

This year’s theme


In keeping with the overall theme of this conference – “making a sustainable difference in your community and the environment” – and past conferences, we encouraged all delegates to stay a stone’s throw away from the main conference venue, Ubuntu Kraal, or our co-hosts, Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers – OR at least within a few kilometres’ radius. With that in mind, prior to the conference, we had provided a list of possible accommodation within Soweto itself with the help of Lebo’s; encouraging all delegates to stay there in order to minimise our collective footprint, and get to know Soweto more intimately. SAYTC would like to thank Lebo and Maria Malepa for their hospitality and tremendously hard work in assisting us in pulling off this awesome event, as well as making everyone feel at home in Soweto.

The pre-party in Cullinan

This year, the festivities started early with a pre-party in the Cullinan area, the evening before the welcome dinner – sponsored by GorgeGlide. They generously organised transport from the airport to the venue as well as the party and proved to be excellent hosts. We had a fantastic turnout, considering it was a precursor to the main event! SAYTC Chairman, Gavin Eyre, and Membership Manager, Tara Gellé, attended the party whilst Deborah Smook, National Coordinator, took care of the last minute details of the setup for the conference in Soweto.

The pre-party was held in an area as picturesque as you can get; in Reyton, a few kilometres past Cullinan, at an old train station turned party venue and accommodation; Getaway Coaches. We stayed overnight on the old train cars in wood-panelled rooms with a vintage feel, complete with Victorian style bathtubs. This was indeed a treat after a night of drinking and catching up around the outside fire, with a hearty meal to line our stomachs. The following day, we were treated – yet again – to a GorgeGlide in the Cullinan area or golf for those who felt like something a little low key, and which worked even better than a hair-of-the-dog beverage to kick start us back into gear… ready for the welcome party at Lebo’s.

We’d like to give a big thank you to Helgaard Jordaan and Hanro Davel from Cullinan Backpackers and Adventure Zone and GorgeGlide.

Registration & opening party

We made our way to the opening party at Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, just in time for registration in the late afternoon. The setting had an almost surreal quality; familiar in a way, like we’d come home. The sound of the trains chugging past above us, the glow of dusk, the faces of our delegates arriving – the joy of seeing each other again as clear as day on their faces, the community garden opposite Lebo’s becoming more populated by people wearing the vibrant red ponchos (inspired by that unique Soweto style) that SAYTC gave delegates for free to help keep the winter chill at bay… these elements combined contributed to the atmosphere and spirit of the conference. It filled us all with anticipation and enthusiasm for what was to come, as well as a sense of camaraderie.

We’d like to thank Gauteng Tourism for sponsoring the delicious African-braai style dinner (‘shisa nyama’) we had that evening, enhanced by Maria’s gluhwein, and the reggae-themed party that followed. Thanks, also, to Mpho Moeti from Gauteng Tourism who gave a warm and welcoming speech, and to the other representatives who attended. The music, fires, food and surroundings made for a very special start to what was to become a memorable few days together.

Day 1 – AGM

The following morning was an early one for Deborah Smook and Tara Gellé, who had to get to the venue for the conference, Ubuntu Kraal (in Soweto itself and only a few kilometers from Lebo’s and our accommodation), to set up for the first day. Spirits were high, and were raised higher still, when we were reminded – upon seeing  Loren and Taise Sampson with their supplies – that Island Vibe were going to be providing Bloody Marys for our morning ‘tea break’; thanks to them for sponsoring the tea, and for those life-saving morning cocktails, after what was a big night for some! Between those, the heaters and ponchos, we managed to keep relatively warm – given that is was an uncomfortably cold day in the shade. However, as the sun came up and the delegates had several chances to stand outside during the various intervals, we soon thawed and laughed it off.

But, without getting ahead of ourselves, let’s mention the AGM; many thanks to the Chairs and Vice-Chairs who made it, and to those who were unable to, but who nonetheless submitted their reports to be read by our Chairman, Gavin.

Day 1 – Making your business sustainable

And then, it was the official opening of the conference; a massive thanks to Chief Marketing Officer of South African Tourism, Janine Hutton, for her opening speech. This was followed by the much-anticipated talk given by Jason Drew – Environmental Capitalist. This remarkable man is an inspiring and prolific speaker, who argues for the marriage of capitalism and sustainability, and that the latter has to have an economic reward. This gave momentum to the aforementioned theme of the conference, and made the concept of sustainability more concrete to all present.

Lunch gave us an opportunity to process the busy morning we’d had, meet and greet those we’d missed at the registration dinner, and finish off the last of the Bloody Mary’s… Ah, yes, as well as eat! Before we knew it, we were in for the next inspiring talk, given by Jeunesse Park – founder of Food & Trees for Africa – another visionary, and ‘Ecopreneur’.  She believes that an individual can change the world, and she has set out to do just that. Among her other glowing achievements, she is a Climate Leader for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. Additionally, she brought the theme of the conference home, but giving all the attendees an opportunity to buy and sponsor trees, to be planted in the Soweto community garden.

The afternoon seemed to swiftly slip away from us, with two more quality speakers; Thulani Madondo – executive director of the Kliptown Youth Programme – who spoke about his remarkable extracurricular support programme, and Kathy Bergs – GM of Fair Trade Tourism – who reminded the delegates of the ideals of Fair Trade and the importance of sustainability, once again.

Tea served as a bridge and relaxing interval – filled with excited chatter, as always – between the afternoon speakers and the speed-dating session. This is now a staple at SAYTC conferences, and is an excellent way to get a crash-course about each participant’s product; this time, we had thirteen businesses with tables. The laughter became contagious as each small group made their way along, and witnessed some rather wacky and dynamic presentations – sometimes punctuated by Jagermeister shots and glasses of quality South African wine. Needless to say, we were all warming up for the Gala dinner that was to be our next stop. But first, we needed to get dressed up in traditional African garb, in keeping with the theme for the evening…

Day 1 – Partying in Vilakazi Street

On the way to the dinner, a few of us walked from Ubuntu Kraal to the venue, Nexdor restaurant in Vilakazi Street (a street in Soweto famous for its rich cultural history and heritage), in the darkening streets of Soweto… What struck us, as we ambled along, happily (and tipsily) – and got increasingly more lost – was how safe it felt, and what an honest and friendly community we found ourselves in. Whatever we’d heard, or reservations anyone could have had about coming to and staying in this place for a few days, melted away. We were touched when a local man, who was also making his way, but in a different direction, went out of his way to show us where to go. We arrived at Nexdor ready for the party of the year! Little did we know that none other than PJ Powers was to grace us with a live performance – exclusively for the delegates of the SAYTC conference – that blew us all away!

Coupled with the fact that everyone had gone all out to dress up in traditional African clothes, complete with hats, the aural and visual effect was unforgettable. A wonderful and satisfying meal was provided. A huge thank you to FNB PayPal for sponsoring this remarkable event! Needless to say, the festivities went late into the night and pushed through to the wee hours of the morning, with a group of us moving on to Lebo’s to continue the party. Did we feel less than fresh the next day? Guaranteed – but we had no regrets, and were somehow carried the by the buzz of an undeniably good energy and feeling amongst all the delegates, into the next day’s programme.

Day 2 – Marketing your business

Day two saw the focus shifting from sustainability to marketing your business and making use of the various tools, programmes and forms of support that are provided to our developing sector. We started off with “BSA Sessions”, specifically for our hostel owner members, with representatives from NAA-SA & The Sustainable Tourism Partnership Programme, the Tourism Grading Council, and Hostelworld – all highly relevant to our industry. We’d like to thank Caroline Ungersbock, Thekiso Rakolojane and Olivia Rice-Tifine (who came all the way from Ireland) respectively, for their attendance and informative presentations.

Conference superhero and boredom slayer, Richard Mulholland, made an appearance – yet again – at our SAYTC conference. His rock star-like style of public speaking ensured everyone sat up and listened intently (when they were not doubled over with laughter), and his unconventional delivery reflected the topic of his talk, that you need to offer  a product that stands apart in your industry (a “purple cow”) if you want to be a success. He specialises in educating companies and rescuing them from tired practices, and we are convinced that that is precisely what he does; what a necessary jolt to the system after a series of late nights!

Tea, once again sponsored by Island Vibe (thank you!) and a brief basking session in the sunshine, was followed by three pertinent talks given by key players in the industry; William Price, global online marketing guru for South African Tourism, shed some light on the latest trends in promoting your business through social media; Expedia’s Ross Kata Ross Kata spoke about Expedia for SAYTC and gave marketing tips from the big industry players; finally, Franco Jordaan gave some insight on the TOMSA levies that the private sector supports to help grow the tourism marketing of South African as a destination.

With all this information swimming around in our heads, we took a break for lunch, sponsored by Hostelworld – thank you! With such a jam-packed programme, there was little time to beat around the bush (although some of the delegates had already decided to start quenching their party thirsts with cider and beer), and we bustled in quickly after eating for a talk given by the Market Access and Research Manager of TEP; Hannelie du Toit, who brought some insight into what TEP can do for SAYTC members.

Dan Cross from Trip Advisor, the last speaker of the 2013 SAYTC conference, shed some light on “How to manage your online reputation and promote your business on the world’s largest travel site”; needless to say, we were all ears!

Video competition

Throughout the two days of the program itself, the entries of the My Business in a Minute and Best Responsible Practices video competitions had been shown to all the delegates during intervals. Thank you to Grove Group for sponsoring prizes for the awesome completion, for which we encouraged members (only) to submit 1 minute videos that they had made themselves, for both categories. Although SAYTC had had a My Business in a Minute video competition before, the Best Responsible Practices video challenge was a new one and urged members to get creative in showcasing what their businesses had done to contribute to the well-being of their communities and the environment; definitely in line with the theme of the conference. We are so proud of the creativity and innovation that all the entrants displayed, and well done to the winners – all of whom are listed at the end.

Delegates exploring Soweto

With a view to showcasing activities in Soweto, each delegate was given the option of choosing from a variety of tours – according to preference – and went back out onto the streets to discover more of what this vibrant and culturally rich area has to offer; whether by tuk-tuk, on foot, or by bicycle. This afternoon adventure was finished off perfectly by tea or alcoholic beverages back at Ubuntu Kraal; thank you to Around About Cars from providing bottles of red wine, before we were to make our way, one final time, to Lebo’s for our farewell dinner.
Thank you to Penthouse on Long for sponsoring the delicious African potjiekos meal to send us all off! We’d come full circle, after such an eventful, enjoyable, informative and inspiring conference and time in Soweto. Once again, we were sustained by fires, excellent company and food…  As well as the satisfaction that one can only get from the feeling that one’s time has been well spent. A local band provided a good soundtrack to our goodbyes, sad as they were. In true SAYTC fashion, the party went on onto the early hours of the next day, fuelled by interesting conversations and – of course – drinks from the bar.

Thank you

In closing, BIG thank you’s must go to our sponsors:

  • FNB Paypal
  • Gauteng Tourism
  • Hostelworld
  • Penthouse on Long
  • Grove Group
  • Island Vibe

And the conference of course did not happen without the help of the following people:

  • SAYTC’s hard working staff, Deborah and Tara
  • Gavin, the driven Chairman and hilarious MC
  • FNB PayPal for sponsoring the sound
  • Jacques and Sadia, for all their hard work on the conference website
  • Elodie for her great photos
  • All those who sponsored prizes for the auction and video competition winners:
    • Around About Cars
    • Baz Bus
    • Marine Dynamics
    • Dyer Island Cruises
    • Cape Sidecar Adventures
    • Daddy Long Legs Art Hotel
    • Face Adrenalin
    • Bear Trap Lodge
    • San Parks
    • Afrovibe

Most of all, we have to thank our amazing members. We can safely say that it’s worth every drop of effort just so that we can get you all in one place for a few days to learn something valuable, exchange ideas, and generally have a wonderful time together!

2013 Soweto – Eita Soweto

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