hroughout the calendar year, throughout the world, nations stop to mark days of significance – moments in time of the creation of the history of a nation, shaping the lives, lifestyles, values and future vision of its people.

Public Holidays. Days of national ‘pause’. Days meant for national reconnection to history, to meaning, to one another. Days where events are organised to celebrate, to commemorate, to reflect and to refocus.

Days to be still, because it is important to be aware.

Sadly, however, the business and busy-ness of everyday life has turned public holidays into simply days off. Dates on the calendar set aside for national/cultural/religious observance have become opportunities for people to get personal stuff done. To get some rest. To get things in order for when the pause button is released.

When the day arrives, however, we are reminded of the reason for the occasion…and often humbled by its depth of meaning. How could it’s original, collective intent have been lost by immediate, personal priorities? How could its purpose have been taken for granted? Especially when public holidays are set aside to ensure that the story of the history of a nation is shared generation after generation, by each and every person who is a stitch in the fabric of the nation.

Almost every nation in the world can look at its annual calendar and identity two to three public holidays set aside to bookmark important chapters of the story of the evolution of the country – as a place, as a people, as a spirit…and as hosts to travellers to our land who often arrive because of the remarkable stories of our past, and how they shape our future.

In losing the meaning behind public holidays, are we losing the importance of the storytelling?

One of the world’s strongest examples of the usage of public holidays as active, on-going reminders of the story of a nation’s progress is the re-structured calendar of South Africa.

On its liberation in 1994, then President Mandela and the national congress felt it imperative that the people of the new South Africa, and the people of the world, never forget all that the nation fought – the moments which shaped the stories of the struggle, important footprints along its long walk to freedom.

As a result seven new national public holidays were created, making it possible for South Africans (and its visitors) to come together throughout the year to mindfully salute and celebrate all that took place to take the nation forward.

Most notably:

  • March 21st: Human Rights Day – created to ensure that the people of South Africa are aware of their human rights and need to continuously honours and protect same.
  • April 27th: Freedom Day – celebrating the first democratic elections held in 1994 and the nation’s new constitution of 1997.
  • May 1st: Worker’s Day – commemorating the importance of workers and trade unions
  • June 16th, Youth Day, honouring the young people lost in the struggle against Apartheid and Bantu Education
  • August 9th: National Women’s Day – honouring the critical role which women played in keeping the struggle alive, and the importance of continuing to protect women as part of South Africa’s strength and future
  • September 24th: Heritage Day – celebrating the nation’s diversity of cultures, customs, traditions, histories, and languages
  • December 16th: Day of Reconciliation – a day to collectively, as a nation, reflect on the need to rise above conflicts of the past and continue to work together to build a new nation.

Still, dates on a calendar do not guarantee days of purposeful pause. Stories are words on the pages of a book until warm hands and hearts begin the storytelling.

The political leadership of a nation, particularly those in the Tourism sector, are perfectly positioned to be carriers of the stories which showcase the nation to its people and its visitors. With their profile and platform, leaders are able to ensure that understanding, appreciation and active commemoration occur, annually, with inspiration.

But this requires overt, organised and official commitment – commitment to lifting the dates off the calendar and into the hearts and minds of people, at home and across the world.

Interestingly, in making such a commitment the nation also makes it possible to create a new bouquet of traveller experiences. Through turning historical, cultural and religious public holidays into events, events which become national times of unity and celebration (whilst maintaining the essence of their meaning), a rich array of new tourism experience development opportunities are created to grow both international and domestic traveller numbers.

A natural Tourism sector growth opportunity.

But more importantly, a mechanism to keep the important stories of a nation alive.

And turning storytelling into a strategic lever for destination growth and development – in spirit, in unity, and in visitor numbers.

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2010


Across the globe the Travel & Tourism (T&T) sector has become recognised as a powerful vehicle for building economies, societies, and futures. Through the sector a destination – city, nation, region – can be joined through a shared vision, identity and sense of purpose to open its doors to travellers of the world. In sector building is nation building.

Sadly, sometimes this building needs to occur from the ground up.

January 12th, 2010. Haiti. A new year. New hopes, new aspirations, new energy, new opportunity. But then the Earth shook. And in 10 seconds the nation’s capital came falling to the ground. Buildings collapsed onto the lives of the Haitian people. Over 200,000 souls were taken by the earthquake, leaving behind millions of lives broken to rubble. All in just ten seconds.

Almost as immediately the global community turned its eyes and hearts to Haiti. Aid workers and funds started to pour in. In a spirit reflecting the times in which we now live, actions spoke clearly that we are one world, facing this crisis as one. With Haiti the world gasped, the world grieved, the world gathered to help break through the rubble to set free those still holding on to life. And the world started thinking of how to rebuild the future of the Haitian people and their homeland.

At the top of the list of ways to enable Haiti to rise again was the T&T sector.

The Island nation, already known and experienced as a destination for sun seeking travellers, has the potential to be rebuilt to once again welcome back those who, through their spending could in fact help rebuild the nation, tourism sector and beyond. T&T can have a very real role to play in lifting the structures, systems and spirits of Haiti, rebuilding off of a solid, safe, secure and sustainable base.

In addition, the process of rebuilding the sector will open up meaningful opportunities for Haitians to work, and therefore earn, again. This re-activation of the cycle of engagement, employment, earning and spending would allow the ripples of economic activity to spread stronger and wider.

Sounds like a plan.

Rebuilding Haiti through rebuilding the T&T sector is indeed a powerful, achievable vision. With it, however, needs to be sensitivity. With all building sites comes the risk of locals getting hurt, in ways completely unintended.

A nation reengineering as a T&T destination, even with the greatest of humanitarian intent in the mortar of each building to be constructed, needs to ensure that the building of a tourism sector reflective of the needs and wishes of tourists is also sensitive to the needs and wishes of the locals of the destination itself. For to build a tourism industry for the needs of visitors without being cognisant of the needs of the people of Haiti will risk severe damage.

For a local who has lost everything as a result of natural disaster (or even man made crisis) to see hotels rising and yet no homes, resorts and yet no road works, water sports & scuba centers and yet no schools, meeting places and yet no medical facilities…even if all of the development is being put in place to improve the lives of the local people through T&T, the investment into T&T will risk actually alienating the local people.

If it appears that the focus of rebuilding is on tourists, and not the people of the destination, a very natural of reaction of “what about me?” can be expected…thus creating animosity and anger towards the industry – and travellers.

By no means should of areas devastated by disaster look away from the T&T sector. Quite the contrary – the sector can in fact act as a valuable force for rebuilding of the infrastructure and economy of the destination. And the spirit of the people. There is so much good that can and will come from the T&T sector taking an active, upfront role in destination rebuilding.

The sector must simply ensure that the bigger picture is always kept firmly at the forefront of planning:
• Sharing the new vision for the destination – and its benefits for the people of the destination – with the people of the destination
• Involving the people of the destination in destination design and development
• Addressing fundamental needs of the people of the destination into integrated destination development plans.

As T&T works to build a world bringing travellers closer to global destinations, so too should the sector work to bring people of the destination closer to global tourism.

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2010


Mega events – large scale activations of sports, cultural, religious or other gatherings of people from across the globe at a single location at a set point in time – are massive drivers of Travel & Tourism (T&T) sector growth.

Major events are a powerful means of fueling growth in the key areas of T&T sector development and measurement. These include, to name but a few,:

  • Increase in Arrivals
  • Stimulation of Traveller Activity
  • Increase in Yield
  • Stimulation of Investment
  • Stimulation of Employment and Skills Development
  • Flattening of Seasonality Curves
  • Increase in Destination Competitiveness
  • Building of the Destination Brand
  • Increase in Tourism Sector Structure, Stability and Impact
  • Building of Legacy

2010 is set to be a year of exceptional Mega-events. Starting with the Winter Olympic Games in Canada in February the year will unfold in a series of major events opening up major opportunity for destinations. Other Mega-events include: the FIFA World Cup in South Africa (June & July); the Commonwealth Games in India (October); the World Exhibition in Shanghai, China (May to October).

To successfully pull off a major event can be, however, an event. An enormous investment of time, energy, commitment and spirit are required by the people of the destination over and above the massive investment of funding.

This applies particularly to the people directly involved in Mega-event preparations of infrastructure and communications to ensure the event is truly a success, in the moment and long after from a legacy perspective.

Case in point: the 2010 FIFA WORLD CUP in South Africa.

Since that magic moment on May 15th, 2004 when FIFA President Sepp Blatter opened the envelope to reveal South Africa had finally been awarded Host Country status the nation has been hard at work. The 2010 Local Organising Committee under the strong leadership of Dr Danny Jordaan has worked tirelessly with FIFA, South African Government and Private sector stakeholders to ensure that the Games happen in a way which redefines success:

  • delivering a world-class FIFA World Cup with South African spirit and style,
  • shifting and uplifting global understanding and perceptions of South Africa as a leading global nation, truly alive with possibility and committed to delivery,
  • showing South Africans that, when working together, they are one team, one goal, one pride, one force for positive shared change
  • leaving a lasting legacy which all South Africans can benefit from

National airports, host city stadiums, rapid transport lines, broadcasting centers, road systems, telecomms cabling – the nation became a focused, deadline-watching construction site, aligning efforts and hopes of the people of the country and, interestingly, providing a degree of employment and investment insulation to the impact of the economic downturn of 2009.

While the Games officially begin mid-2010 with the blowing of the first whistle on June 11th, 2010, delivery of the Mega-event has already begun.

On December 04th, 2009 the FINAL DRAW took place in Cape Town (one of the official Host Cities of the 2010 Games) – the critical appetiser event to the main course of the 2010 Games where the final fixtures were determined for the Games: who plays who, where, when. As the world’s football VIPs descended on Cape Town, the world’s media set its cameras firmly in place on the city and venue to ensure that over 200 million football lovers across the world had a front seat at this critical pre-event event.

Recognising what was at stake for the Host City and South Africa in terms of exposure, expectation and expertise, the 2010 delivery community worked tirelessly to ensure delivery excellence. From Dr Jordaan and his 2010 LOC leadership team, to CT Host City government officials from the Office of the Premier to the local Tourism authorities, to ACSA (Airports Company South Africa) teams, the leadership team of the CT International Convention Centre, SAPS (South African Police Services) and other critical stakeholders… every effort and ounce of energy was applied towards ensuring this moment of truth became a positive, inspiring moment for the nation’s and continent’s history books as South Africa staged a dress rehearsal for Africa’s first ever FIFA World Cup.

Visitors from across the country and world arriving into the shiny, stylish, newly-upgraded, magnificently reopened CT International Airport experienced their first moment of Host City awe. The awe continued on first sight of the iconic, elegant CT Stadium (which officially handed over the keys to the Mayor of CT just a few days after the Final Draw marking ahead-of-schedule completion of the Host City’s pride and joy). Within the city of CT itself the feeling of pride and anticipation of all Capetonians was electric, climaxing in a 20,000+ strong street party just outside the FINAL DRAW venue. The event itself, executed with cutting-edge technology and theatrical capability within the CTICC, went without a hitch – the links held and the media world was fed with footage. For the entire week media coverage captured build-up to the FINAL DRAW. The world’s news leader, CNN, brought its sports journalism and production best to CT to set up camp and cameras to capture, through the week, around the clock, around the city and around the world, the scope of sporting and human interest stories associated with the 2010 Games and Friday’s draw.

Exceptional, endless, effectively invisible commitment all around. Because the reality is this: while the world saw FINAL DRAW red carpets and on-stage razzmatazz, these unsung heroes working behind the scenes saw little sleep, little TLC and little applause. And they did not seek to. Their efforts were focused on something so much bigger – a sense of purpose.

At the close of the FINAL DRAW, while FIFA and the world praised South Africa’s hosting of the event with great success – and without incident – these remarkable, invisible event delivery teams quietly popped champagne corks amongst themselves, enjoying a private and intimate celebration.

Still, these unsung heroes across the list of acronyms and accountabilities deserve the awareness and appreciation of the people following the event, at home and across the world.

This principle applies not just to the 2010 FINAL DRAW, but to each and every Mega-event which takes place in the 2010 FIFA WORLD CUP. And, importantly, every major event in the world.

To move on too quickly to the next To-Do would be a great shame as the spirit of the moment would be lost forever.

Tourism is an exceptional sector. It is fueled by not only strategies and sizable budgets, but also people who work beyond measure, more often than not invisibly, to ensure that their destination is showcased and celebrated as a prelude to creating a safe, stable, sustainable and strongly admired place which they can proudly call ‘home’.

These unsung heroes are all around us. We know exactly who they are and the enormous difference they continue to make. Find them, celebrate them. Do not let their moment to shine, the moment to sing their praises, the moment to pause and feel deeply why we love what we do, pass by.

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2010


A new year is unfolding. Thankfully.
2009 is officially closed.
A clean slate allowing us all to reflect, re-focus, re-plan, re-dream.

Still, while the recession of 2009 may also now be defined, statistically, as over, allowing the global economy to exhale deeply and look forward with renewed hope,
the deep scars of the emotional recession still linger.
Holiday periods to close off 2009 and welcome in the new year have been needed, helpful,
But much healing is still to occur.
And it goes beyond the balance sheets.

In one year so much has been lost.
Fortunes yes.
But also legends, and leaders,
Heroes and homes,
Respect for governance and regard for greatness,
Rights for security and responsibility for stability,
role models and the belief systems,
so many of the fundamentals we as a global community needed to have trust and confidence in or futures, individually and collectively.
So much happened, so much beyond belief.

Our fast-forward techno-savvy lives cannot simply fast forward into 2010.
Putting the past behind us. Closing the files. It’s not that easy.
To fast forward with haste would be to fail to take the learnings we need to build a tomorrow stronger than today.

Because still there are fears. Fears of double dips and more pink slips.
Fears which defuse consumer and investor confidence critical to economic recovery.

So, with all the best of intentions and business plans, how do we move forward?
Genuinely reemerging in 2010 in a way which is informed and inspired?
By returning to the fundamentals – the things which truly matter.


The world is curious
The world is connected
And the world is excited to keep moving.

Now is the time for courage.
And for calling on “our better angels”.


In just a few hours timezones around the world will be ringing in the new year.
2009 will be closed.
A busy year, a noisy noisy year,
A year with so much of the world on the move.

Soon it will all be hushed…

Silence. Stillness. A global holding-of-breath.

And then, in the quiet of night as fireworks turn to fading sparkles,
the page will turn,
ending a chapter full of words, edits, scribbles and bold punctuation,

revealing 365 blank pages to be written upon.
Clean new pages – rich, textureful parchment lying still. Sharp black ink waiting patiently.
The next pages of the story.
The gift which each new year brings to a world, connected.

Happy New Year.