As leaders of South Africa’s tourism industry, we navigate through the ebb and flow of risks, challenges, and triumphs. Yet, among the myriad of obstacles we face, the skills shortage looms large, casting a shadow over the potential of our industry to thrive. As we prepare to meet at Hostex 2024, it is imperative that we confront this issue head-on and forge a path towards sustainable solutions.

The conversations taking place behind closed doors across hotels, restaurants, and tourism establishments underscore a shared concern: the pressing need to bridge the gap in skills. We need to collectively acknowledge how serious the situation is and push for change with determination. Collaboration, I believe, is key to tackling this tough challenge.

In looking for solutions, I believe a central focus of our strategy should be the revival of apprenticeships, breathing new life into a time-honoured tradition. Looking back at the Southern Sun model of the 80s, there are many lessons to be learnt from an era where apprenticeships flourished, producing a generation of culinary greats. But the effectiveness of apprenticeship initiatives hinges not on individual efforts, but on industry-wide cooperation. We must heed the call for collaboration, pooling our resources and expertise to cultivate a robust ecosystem of talent development.

The shift in workplace dynamics, from permanent to casual labour, demands a corresponding evolution in our approach to training. Labour specialists, as integral stakeholders, must invest in the apprenticeship process, instilling a culture of excellence and proficiency. One of the key considerations for a collaborative discussion by tourism leaders is the potential for regulation mandating a minimum two-year training period for all entrants into the industry. Consistency and quality must be the key elements of our solutions to the skills crisis, ensuring that every member of our workforce is equipped to excel within a team-oriented environment.

As leaders in the post-COVID world, driven by a heightened focus on targets and being in survival mode, we’ve lost sight of the human dimension that underpins our industry. Leadership, grounded in empathy and foresight, is indispensable in navigating the complexities of our evolving landscape. An indaba, where all the industry stakeholders come together, led by a neutral facilitator, would provide a melting pot for discussions, helping us align our goals and direction.

The stakes could not be higher. South Africa’s tourism industry, a cornerstone of our nation’s economy, stands at a crossroads. We cannot afford to import solutions from afar, jeopardising the rich heritage of our uniquely South African hospitality and cuisine. Our identity, steeped in a tradition of warmth and authenticity, is our most precious commodity—a testament to the vibrant cultures that define us.

As we embark on this collective journey, let us heed the call for unity and purpose. Let us honour the legacy of our predecessors while charting a course towards a brighter, more inclusive future. The challenges we face are considerable, but not insurmountable. Together, we have the resolve, ingenuity, and spirit to realise our collective vision—a thriving, resilient hospitality industry that serves as a beacon of South Africa’s boundless potential. Let us use the platform of Hostex to bring these issues to light and focus our collective efforts on implementing actionable solutions.

Hostex 2024 takes place from 3 to 5 March 2024 at the Sandton Convention Centre. Follow Hostex on X @Hostex_, Instagram @hostex_2024 or keep up to date with our news on Facebook @hostexza and Linkedin.

James Khoza

James Khoza is an executive chef at Southern Sun’s Sandton Sun & Towers and Sandton Convention Centre, a position he has occupied for the past 10 years. He is the first South African born and trained President of the SA Chefs Association since its inception almost five decades ago.

He honed his culinary skills under Walter Ulz at Linger Longer restaurant as demi chef de cuisine. He holds a Bachelors degree in Tourism and Hospitality Management honours, from the University of Johannesburg

James has travelled and worked in places such as France, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Berlin, where he worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant. He then returned to South Africa and joined Southern Sun, working in various hotels around the country.