•She turned down a well paying job to earn $100 per month in family business.
•Shazmin has however grow to become the COO at Twiga Tours.
Kenyan Shazmin Manji is this year’s Female Trailblazer of the year in Africa’s hospitality and travel industry, as named by the Pyne Awards Africa.
The Pyne Awards Africa is an annual event celebrating the excellence, growth, and hard work of stakeholders in key markets in the continent.
The immediate former Kenya Association of Travel Agents (KATA) chairperson outshone key figures from the South Tourism Board and RwandAir, among other, to win the 2023 accolade.
She has been instrumental in bringing change at KATA where she served since 2012 as a board member and for a short period as acting CEO and then chairlady for one term, with an agenda to bring transparency and inclusivity for all agents.
Historically, KATA has served IATA agents only which were previously less than 130 versus over 1,000 non-IATA agents.
According to Shazmin, changing the KATA company Memorandum and Articles was no easy take as it required various smaller working groups, membership engagement, and significant refinement before it could be ratified.
“But I am proud to see that the new structure took effect at this past AGM and agencies that previously had no voice, now have a dedicated seat on the board and their own sub-committees to address their challenges,” she told the Star.
The changes in the IATA structure made it critical for the association to pivot and be all-inclusive.
“It was a short tenure as I chose not to proceed with a second term because family business needs my full attention and after 10 years, I think it is fair to say I have done my part,” she explained.
Shazmin’s journey in the travel, hospitality and tourism industry however began in 2005 when she joined Twiga Tours, East Africa's premier Safari operator, after completing university.
She turned down a well-paying job offer in a marketing department at a luxury brand, where she had interned as a fashion consultant and was earning well.
“I turned down the offer and returned to the family business thinking I would join and continue earning well and enjoy the big life. To my shock, I was placed as a junior consultant earning about $100 per month and reporting to a manager,” she recalls.
However, she reckons that the move was a true wake-up call that nothing comes for free and one that she appreciates now, looking back.
She learned to work with the front-line sales team whilst exploring different projects and divisions in the company.
At the time, she also got involved both at the Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO) and KATA, learning more about the industry as a whole.
“ learned a lot including the challenges beyond our business and engaging with government policymakers on issues impacting our industry, both tourism and travel,” she said.
The associations, she noted, have both provided a great deal of learning through her career in different forms.
According to Shazmin, management responsibilities came over time, creating a constant learning curve over the years.
She has grown to become the Chief Operations Officer at Twiga Tours, which is currently transitioning into new leadership, as long-serving founder and CEO Minaz Manji slowly hands over the award-winning company.
“I have only held my current title as COO since late last year as our CEO spends more time with his siblings and grandchildren across the globe. He is however just a phone call away,” she noted.
Together with her brother Rahim, the two have successfully steered the company despite the various challenges, whilst holding strong to the family and company values, Shazmin noted.
Looking into the future of travel, Shazmin said: "Revenge travel is the new term post-Covid and it is one that we as the tourism and travel industry players are extremely grateful for. We are likely to see the inbound tourism numbers reach record levels.”
The domestic market has also shown exceptional growth as have the corporates who are back to traveling, she noted.
“This means that as long as other factors such as the local and global political climates, and economies remain stable or improve, we will continue to see tourism and travel industry in and out of Kenya continue to grow,” she said.
She called for continued promotion of the open skies agenda, in the wake of increased interest by international airlines to land both at the JKIA and Moi International Airport in Mombasa.
“I am certain the industry will witness continued growth in passenger numbers which means more dollars, investments among other benefits to the economy,’ she said.
For the industry to be truly successful, the government must also take a more collaborative approach with the tourism, travel, and hospitality industry, she said.
“As an industry, we are looking for better opportunities, a more conducive business environment, and overall growth of our economy,” Shazmin affirmed.
According to her, dialogue and a better understanding between the private sector and the government will help create an industry that the global safari destinations will look to emulate, even as Kenya diversifies its tourism and travel offerings.