Last updated: 10:48 AM ET, Tue April 21 2015

Travvy Awards Winners Spotlight: Sthu Zungu, South African Tourism

Destination & Tourism | David Cogswell | April 21, 2015

Travvy Awards Winners Spotlight: Sthu Zungu, South African Tourism

Everyone who had the pleasure of knowing Sthu Zungu, certainly including all the travel agents who voted her as Most Innovative Africa and Middle East Tourism Executive, will miss her and remember her fondly, since she stepped down as president of South African Tourism North America.

Zungu, who was originally from the South African province of Kwazulu-Natal, led South African Tourism through its last eight years of a constantly upward growth trajectory. She guided SAT with her firm grasp of marketing principles and a clear understanding of what makes South Africa a uniquely beautiful and exciting country.

In her years at the helm of South Africa’s North American marketing efforts she brought poise, dignity, intelligence, focus, friendliness and style to the job. And she made many friends and allies, as is evidenced by her winning of the Travvy Award.

By the time she became head of the New York office of SAT, Zungu already had a string of successes under her belt. She brought a lot of experience to the job.

She received her university training at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, earning a Bachelor of Commerce degree in marketing with honors and going on to earn her master’s.

She had worked as brand communications manager for BMW South Africa in Munich, Germany, working on the wildly successful global launch of the Mini. While she was in Munich, she also finished her post-graduate studies in Advanced International Marketing under the Carl Duisberg Gesselschaft Scholarship.

She also worked as director of South African Tourism Italy in Milan for four years where she succeeded in attracting a new younger demographic of traveler to Italy that it was not previously getting. She speaks five languages: Italian, German, English, Zulu and Xhosa.

The growth of the tourism industry in South Africa has been buoyed by a giant wave of interest and fascination with South Africa ever since it became a democratic country in 1994. After the happy end of apartheid and a revolution led by Nelson Mandela that was not only political, but deeply social and cultural, the wonders of South Africa opened to the world.

It went from being a nation closed off from  the world by its own censored media and by the world’s protest against apartheid, to being Mandela’s Rainbow Nation. It suddenly became seen as a kind of paradise that practically everyone wanted to visit.

But though the interest in South Africa was high, it was the responsibility of South African Tourism to manage that wave and to manage the country’s limited resources to maximize the benefit to the South African people.

The country has relied heavily on tourism for its development, and particularly for the kind of development that spreads throughout the population and helps people on all levels. Zungu was masterful in managing those resources.

Like other South Africans, Zungu sees the country’s tourism development as its destiny, the inevitable result of its history. It is an inexorable progression, a force of nature. But it required managing and she did it masterfully.

She was effective in focusing on the market sectors that showed the most promise, keeping watch on the growth trends of multigenerational travel, adventure travel, jet setters and culture jammers.

She maximized resources by forging strategic partnerships with the trade and media to effectively create the kind of extra magic that is not achieved through any amount of money but through the unleashing of imagination and passion.

In South Africa’s 20 years as a democratic nation, it has more than tripled its visitor numbers.

“South Africa has grown as a country and South Africa’s people have grown,” she told TravelPulse. “Challenges remain but on the whole, there has been a lifting of the standard of living of ordinary South Africans. Our government has made tourism such a priority. It’s one of the top five sectors of the economy that the government looks to for job growth creation and for transformation. It is the quickest way.”

In Zungu’s last year on the job she saw South Africa rise to the number two rank after Italy in the 2014 in the Virtuoso Lux Report as most popular international destination. The New York Times put Cape Town at the very top of its list of places one should go in one’s lifetime.

We will miss her.

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