“It is clear that a significant amount of tourists still want to take up that holiday to South Africa and the Western Cape, and that for many people locally and abroad the idea of reconnecting with loved ones, surrounded by scenic beauty and in wide open spaces, is just the right antidote to the lockdowns and restrictions of the last 2 years.”
Monika Iuel is a force in the travel and tourism industry, with almost 3 decades of experience in management in both the private sector and destination marketing.
Born in South Africa, Monika moved to Germany with her family when she was 14 years old. She went on to live in Berlin and West Berlin for the next 9 years of her life and was lucky enough to be around for the fall of the Berlin Wall. After high school, she completed a tourism diploma before returning home to South Africa in 1995 – just in time to see the Springboks win their first Rugby World Cup.
Monika’s in-depth knowledge of tourism and the international marketplace coupled with her boundless ambition, passion and determination to succeed have enabled her to develop strong industry relationships over the years. She is deeply respected and a highly influential part of the industry as a whole.
It came as no surprise when, in March 2021, Monika was appointed as the new Chief Marketing Officer at Wesgro – the official tourism, trade and investment promotion agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape. She now spends her days leading and managing the destination marketing effort to position Cape Town and the Western Cape as a world-class leisure and business tourism destination – and it shows!
We were very honored to host Monika around our campfire and get to know her a little bit more.
I wish there was a lightbulb moment! I was studying to become a journalist at the TU in Berlin, and was at a tour operator specialising in holidays to Southern Africa to book a flight back home to visit my folks. My courses at uni were not inspiring me, and when the General Manager who was booking my flights offered me a position as an apprentice in their business I took it. The rest is history!
South Africa was always home. My parents moved back to Johannesburg the moment Madiba was released from prison, together with my younger siblings, and I visited them annually from Berlin.
At some point I just realised that it was time to go back to my roots (and the euphoria of post-Apartheid South Africa was of course very infectious!).
Gosh there are so many! My husband and I love traveling locally, and since moving to Cape Town in 2016 we make sure to visit as much of the province as we can manage. We also have a passion for the bush (and even had a bush wedding), and try to get out on safari at least once a year.
In no order of preference some stand out memories have been: our stay at Matetsi in 2020 – utter bush heaven; Morukuru Beach Lodge – we were there when there were over 1000 whales on the coastline; and the Oudebosch Eco-Cabins in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve – these are spectacular and off the grid, and we heard a Cape Leopard calling in the mountains on a hike there.
Other than the Covid pandemic you mean? Pretty much everything has changed since the mid-nineties. When I started working in inbound tourism we still largely communicated by fax (!!) and Facebook and smartphones were still far in the future (Mark Zuckerberg was 10 years old!).
The digitisation of the world has meant that the consumer has increasingly become the centre of everything, and this has meant that the industry has needed to adjust rapidly to this changing landscape. Whilst the traditional channel has become ever-increasingly disintermediated, it has not gone as rapidly here in South Africa as in other more developed global destinations, and as a result the traditional inbound players have managed to remain relevant (if able to respond to the digital needs of their customers).
The team at Wesgro is certainly a key highlight of my year. With Julia Louw (our Head of Leisure Tourism) and Corne Koch (Head of the Convention Bureau) by my side it’s a real privilege to collaborate between government and private sector to ensure that recovery from the travel bans is as swift and as inclusive as possible.
Another highlight (but certainly also a big challenge) was the work we collaborated on to get South Africa off the UK’s Red List at the end of last year. It was a beautiful example of how much great work can be done when everyone agrees to pursue a common goal.
Certainly the current trends are looking very promising, and we sincerely hope that things continue along this trajectory. It is clear that a significant amount of tourists still want to take up that holiday to South Africa and the Western Cape, and that for many people locally and abroad the idea of reconnecting with loved ones, surrounded by scenic beauty and in wide open spaces, is just the right antidote to the lockdowns and restrictions of the last 2 years.
The importance of the domestic market was demonstrated very clearly, and we do hope that the products and experiences out there find a way to sustain this revenue stream, as we believe that similarly the domestic traveller has a new-found love for a local holiday that will exist even after the whole world has opened up to us again.
We do have to recognise too though that tourism is always very dependent on macro issues, and we can be certain that the next challenge will find us, whether it be volcanic ash clouds, viruses or political pressures in our source markets. We need to stay resilient, safeguard our balance sheets and ensure our customer base is diversified sufficiently.
That’s an easy one. No more war, no more unemployment and no more global pandemics! And if I could have a 4th one it would be the end of our global climate crisis!
That’s an interesting question. Not something I’ve thought about – I live too much in the now! But if I had to choose, I think I’d choose to be at Woodstock in 1969 and see the incredible artists that performed there and be a part of what must have been a life-changing (albeit muddy) experience.
Keep an eye out for more conversations and inspiring stories from bold achievers from both in and out of the travel industry with Ker & Downey® Africa’s Fireside Chats. There’s plenty more in store to whet your travel appetite!