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Meet Four Women Changing African Tourism

Whether working with governments, academia, or the spa industry these enterprising and entrepreneurial women leading change in tourism and hospiltaly are a force for good. In the recent International Hospitality Institute recognition of “100 Most Powerful People” in hospitality in Africa, there were many women on the list and 20 from the African Association of Women in Tourism and Hospitality made the list! We checked in with four of these leaders––Ngozi Ngoka and Joycee Awosika from Nigeria, Dr. Belinda Nwosu in Lagos, and Daphne Spencer in Ghana––to see what they are working on, what the recognition means to them, and what is next.

L to R: Ngozi Ngoka, Daphne Spencer, Joycee Awosika and Dr. Belinda Nwosu women leading hospitality and tourism in Africa
L to R: Ngozi Ngoka, Daphne Spencer, Joycee Awosika and Dr. Belinda Nwosu

Ngozi Ngoka

Managing Consultant/CEO of Zigona Advisory, Ngozi Ngoka is a former Director General of the Imo State Tourism Board in Nigeria, and a tourism practitioner and advocate with a niche for Rural/Urban Tourism economic models, sustainable frameworks for tourism development, and public/private sector tourism policies. Ngozi has executed over 84 projects in the course of her career for private Individuals, national, regional, and local governments, and for major non-profit organizations––wow!

Ngozi shares with us, “I’ve worked in various aspects of the tourism and hospitality sectors in the course of my 25-year career. I am the pioneer Destination Event Planner for the upscale market in Nigeria. My passion for the industry spurred me into advocacy for sectorial improvements and I have served the industry in various capacities on associations in Nigeria. I currently sit on the Advisory Boards of the African Tourism Board (ATB) and the African Association of Women in Tourism and Hospitality (AWTH), along with being a member of Nigeria’s National Assembly Business Environment Roundtable Expert Roundtable (NASSBER) and thematic lead for the Tourism and Hospitality Industries Thematic Group (THITG) of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) where I am leading a group of tourism and hospitality practitioners in reviewing the Tourism Master plan and National Tourism Policy for Nigeria.”

Ngozi Ngoka, Zigona Advisory
Ngozi Ngoka, Zigona Advisory

What project are you most excited about right now?

Zigona Advisory is currently working with several state governments in Nigeria, on the development of tourism destinations and itineraries that have a strong Nigerian/West African cultural/rural or environmental character; sustainable travel and tourism policy development, and sectorial staff training. These projects are focused on cultural and heritage routes/itineraries and on food and culinary tourism.

Apart from my day job, I’m really proud of the work we are doing at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) because I have the opportunity to work with many young people working in tourism and hospitality in Nigeria and around the world, Together, we are drafting proposals for policies that are dynamic and tailor-made for Nigeria and also global in its characteristics. I’m grateful for the opportunity to guide the discussions we are having surrounding best practices and how to instill tourism and hospitality as viable economic sectors for Nigeria.

What does this recognition as one of the “Top 100 Most Powerful People” in Africa by IHI mean to you?

I’ve always been an optimist. It’s the way I navigate in this world, which is that there’s always a possibility of transforming or changing, or doing something different to achieve the best results. I don’t set out to win awards but when I do receive one, it's an affirmation that there are people out there, who have been impacted and appreciate what I do- and this motivates me to do work harder. I would like want to use this opportunity to thank everyone who nominated me and to dedicate this award to every member of our various advocacy platforms, who have been on this journey with me to advance sustainable tourism as a viable tool for global empowerment of women and youth, especially those in rural communities.

Dr. Belinda Nwosu

Dr. Belinda Nwosu is an academic, consultant, and mentor. Belinda tells us, “I've spent two decades working in the hospitality space and have never looked back. Currently, I'm a faculty member of the Organisational Behaviour and HRM department at Lagos Business School. Through my research and teaching, I work to advance strategic leadership competencies in the hospitality sector in Africa. And so far, so good! To date, we are witnessing the expansion of training and development initiatives across the continent. Much more needs to be in leadership development, but that is a work in progress.”

Dr. Belinda Nwosu, Lagos Business School
Dr. Belinda Nwosu, Lagos Business School

As an educator in the hospitality and tourism industry, how important is the role of education in career acceleration for women?

The role of education in career advancement is well understood. However, for many people, it is access to this education that remains a challenge. I actively explore ways to improve access to relevant education and training resources in my advisory capacity with the Association of African Women in Tourism and Hospitality, Wonder Foundation, and the Institute of Hospitality. One thing is for sure, knowledge is a powerful tool that needs to be harnessed and applied to the common good. But the definition of true success is how knowledge is used to serve others.

You made the IHI list of “Top 100 Most Powerful People in Africa”, what does this mean for African women in education?

I am honored to be considered one of the important contributors to the industry in Africa. If this recognition helps promote learning and development among women in hospitality and tourism in Africa, it has been all worthwhile. It is also an opportunity to appeal to successful women to give back, especially by mentoring young women who are still navigating their careers. Supporting each other is a responsibility for all of us who have been privileged enough to receive from others the tools needed to excel in our fields.

Daphne Spencer

Daphne Spencer began her hospitality career as an intern at Walt Disney World and since then it has been a non-stop journey and evolution that has brought her and her extensive experience back to her native Ghana. Along the way she co-founded the African Association of Women in Tourism and Hospitality along with Amaka Amatokwu- Ndekwu, where they are leading big change.

You’ve had a circuitous route back to Ghana, tell us about it!

Daphne Spencer Africa Tourism
Daphne Spencer

My journey has been intentional on every level; as someone who is curious and easily gets bored, I’m always looking for new challenges. I started out as an intern at Walt Disney World, and most of my time there was spent at Epcot sampling wine and food around the world. My time there solidified my interest in hospitality, I knew I would make a career in this industry. This was about two decades ago. I went straight into hotels (Hyatt, Westin & Hilton), and after about five years in operation I was an AGM and aspiring to become a GM by 30. Then I was laid off at the very beginning of the 2007-2009 recession. I was home for two months job hunting and came across an ad for Micros Systems Inc. The role required 90 percent travel doing hotel systems implementation. I didn’t look through the whole job description and requirements, all I wanted was “90% travel” and doing something involving hotels. I said yes, and they said you’re hired!

With Micros, I touched nearly 50 hotels between US and Canada installing Opera in New Hotels, Conversions and even De-flagged a couple of hotels. I was on a “high” with this job, I don’t consider myself a tech person but was eager to learn and did a few weeks of training in Columbia, MD where the corporate office was located at that time. My first hotel install was the Iconic Montage Beverly Hills Hotel with a large team. Watching the process during the final phases of development, looking through the technology package, and the type of innovation the hotel had was mind-blowing. It was a “smart hotel” and almost everything was at a touch of a button, most hotels today, still don’t have that type of system set up. A few years into this role, I got married and was expecting my first child, I attempted to continue traveling while pregnant but that was short-lived. My body just couldn't handle it, so it came to an end within my first tri-mister.

My next role was a GM role at a Marriott hotel. One day, I found myself in my third trimester at a GM conference among the predominantly white male of a certain age, they looked at me like I was at the wrong conference. I will never forget that feeling. I stuck it out for a while and moved back to Hilton from 2012 – 2020 where I was a National Sales Manager serving corporate accounts such as Victoria’s Secret, Bath, and Body Works, Pfizer, IBM, Coca-Cola, and many others. We all know what COVID did, fast forward, 2021 I was called back but I had already sold my home, shipped things, bought airline tickets, and built my house in Accra, Ghana during my time at home. I felt it was time to come home for a bit and see how I could contribute to my place of birth. It had always been a dream of mine to come home at some point. Hilton was gracious, and my role was held for 6 additional months until December of 2021 when I shared, I wasn’t done with my mission here and couldn’t return yet. I am grateful I get to live this dream with my two kids.

These days, I am a Business & Hospitality Consultant working on projects such as new hotel openings, consulting for new developments, liaising with global brands, and guiding investors through the various brand pathways to opening a branded or independent hotel. I do marketing, business development, business projections, strategic planning, company restructuring, etc. I also advocate for policies and relationships between the private sector and the public sector specifically for the Tourism and Hospitality industry in Ghana.

What's the most exciting project you have embarked on in the hospitality industry and what impact did it make?

Recently, I have become a resource person for the customer experience journey mapping for the hospitality industry in Ghana. Over the years, when I visited, I noticed a gap. In the west, excellent service is part of the culture. Here in Ghana, the concept of “servicing” has a negative connotation, domestic workers are also called “servants” and they attend to guests in every household. People who enter the industry usually do so as the last result because of their grades. Most African families don’t really understand Hospitality and do not believe one can make a career out of a degree in Hospitality, my goal has been to change this notion and say, “you’re looking at someone who did”, and become that representation aspirants need, to get more committed and enthusiastic folks through the door. Now that I have spoken in many hospitality institutions both in person and virtually for at least two years focusing on changing this mindset, and opening a dedicated virtual room for students and entry-level hoteliers for mentorship, I’ve seen a shift in attitude.

So impressed that you have created the African Association of Women in Tourism and Hospitality (AAWTH) with co-founder Amaka. With 20 women from your association on the IHI Top 100 most powerful people in African hospitality, how does that make you feel and what benefits will other women get from joining your association?

WHEW! Thank you, such an overwhelming feeling, it takes me back to conversations when Amaka and I were imagining AAWTH. The responses from women globally to AAWTH validate our mission. Women everywhere are saying “recognize us”, “see our efforts”, and “expand the table and add seats for us!! AAWTH agrees and is committed to helping bring growth opportunities to our ladies. We are extremely proud to have so many trailblazers from different countries representing AAWTH. Personally, I am not surprised that 20 made this list, they are each influential and inspire change in their various capacities. These ladies are full of passion and vigor, they are unstoppable, and we are thrilled to be associated with each of them.

Our organization houses professional women of African descent working in all aspects of the tourism and hospitality industries. Serving as a hub, AAWTH is a driving force in the tourism and hospitality industries, advocating for female leaders with a vision to foster equal opportunities for all women of African descent operating in hospitality and tourism.

AAWTH offers its network of women a safe space to be as expressive as they want, to learn, grow and go as far as they desire. Coming next, AAWTH is unveiling its “Upskill Her Africa Initiative” to accomplish this goal. By the end of 2023, this initiative aims to empower up to 2500 women. Watch this space!

Joycee Awosika

Joycee Awosika is the founder of ORIKI Group, Africa’s leading tech-enabled wellness, self-care, and personal grooming chain. ORIKI is the first and only all-natural personal grooming brand in Nigeria to operate a luxury wellness spa chain with multiple locations coupled with its own manufactured product line.

Joycee Awosika, ORIKI Group
Joycee Awosika, ORIKI Group

Joycee tells us, “As the founder of ORIKI, I have had the privilege of building a wellness, hospitality, and manufacturing brand for the past seven years. This role gives me so much joy because of the lives that we touch every day through our services, our products, and our work to advance the industry. We have opened seven subsidiaries over the years which include: the ORIKI Wellness Spas, ORIKI Manufacturing, THE ORIKI Retail range, The ORIKI Training Institute, the ORIKI Franchise, The ORIKI Consultancy, and our most recent innovation which is like the Uber for the wellness industry, called UNWIND. Through these subsidiaries, we have been able to impact thousands of lives directly offering hundreds of thousands of services including massages, facials, body treatments, and more to customers in our welcoming spaces and in their homes. In addition, we manufacture a product range with over 29 products and we also contract manufacture and private label for our industry colleagues as well. It has been such a journey and we are really excited about our growth. We currently have seven spa locations and we have launched our franchise and are expanding aggressively across Africa and beyond.”

Wow, that is amazing growth, what is the most exciting project you have worked on recently?

The most exciting project I've had the privilege of embarking on in the hospitality industry is the launch and creation of the ORIKI Training Institute. In 2020 as we began to scale and grow more, we realized that there was a gap in the market for well-qualified high standards spa professionals that could really imbibe everything it meant to be a successful and impact-driven spa technician. This means, not just having the technical skill but also having the understanding, love, patience, and positivity needed to really strive in this industry.

As a result of the gap, in 2021, we launched the ORIKI Training Institute with the goal of empowering thousands of women primarily, but also men, to learn how to become well-rounded experts in the spa & wellness industry. We have a number of courses including a comprehensive course that teaches you everything from aesthetics to massages to body treatments and more. Today, we have had a number of cohorts come into the ORIKI Training Institute and get empowered and educated. We have secured one accreditation and we are working on several more. Training and upskilling are the future of this industry.

You have also been involved with AAWTH, how have you benefited as a member?

The AAWTH has been a phenomenal body and organization to be involved with. When I first heard about their work through a LinkedIn post, I was amazed at some of the initiatives they were coming up with and I was most interested in their students' program, where they wanted to train people in the hospitality sector. I immediately identified an opportunity for the ORIKI Training Institute to collaborate with them. Through our conversations, we realized there was more synergy and the fact that the Spa and Wellness industry hasn't really gotten the popularity and place it deserves in this hospitality industry meanwhile It’s a very big and important and critical part of hospitality and tourism. Therefore, I joined the Executive committee and focused on really pushing the agenda of the Spa and Wellness industry in hospitality, and in just a matter of months, the impact has been phenomenal.

More recently, through AAWTH I have had the opportunity to participate in the Castell ELEVATE program which is dedicated to coaching and educating women who are in senior positions in hospitality organizations. AAWTH recommended me for Castell and without that connection, I wouldn't have known about this leadership opportunity.

I recently also joined a sub-division for AAWTH, the ASDP (Students Development Program) which is focused on really fleshing out and pioneering a student training program in hospitality and tourism. It has been a very impactful time and I'm really excited about all the great work w are going to do to impact the future of our industry!!


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