Having recently obtained her PhD in Tourism Management from UP, Dr Liandi Slabbert’s immediate pursuit is to use the knowledge she gained from her doctorate to help protected areas apply the research available to them more efficiently. “As the custodians of natural, historical and cultural heritage, they are under immense pressure to deliver benefits to communities and provide quality visitor experiences to generate revenue to fund conservation. They need to deliver this while upholding the integrity of the very environment they protect. Research is critical for effective decision-making in such complex environments,” she stresses. Read more about her love for nature here below and about her advice for current students. Also find out about the person she would most like to meet…and why.
Q: Briefly summarise your studies and your professional career, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.
A: After two decades working as a researcher and consultant, one can probably sum up my career as alternating between the worlds of management and academic research in support of evidence-based decision-making.
I completed a BCom (Hons) in Econometrics at the University of Pretoria and soon thereafter joined the consulting world where I was involved in projects supporting strategic, tactical and operational initiatives in various industries. While working as a market intelligence specialist for a large IT services provider, I stood at the crossroad – desiring to further my academic studies but unsure about which field of study to pursue.
Today, I am grateful that my passion for travel and tourism overruled this decision. I thoroughly enjoyed doing my Master’s in Tourism Management and, at the same time, joined South African National Parks where I still manage tourism research. A PhD in Tourism Management was the next logical step. My thesis examined the utilisation of visitor research by protected area practitioners and ways in which it can be improved.
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: The University of Pretoria has always exhibited a high level of professionalism and competence. From early student life, this motivated and challenged me to raise my performance standards. My studies in the economic and management sciences also equipped me with a solid foundation of analytical and critical thinking skills that I could apply in various industries.
Q: Given your academic experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?
A: Whether making choices about your next degree, career path or even a research topic: Find that sweet spot where your abilities and the things that drive you, your passions, overlap.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful business/company/consultancy/organisation?
A: A passionate, loyal and capable workforce. Organisations need employees who are passionate about their brand and internally motivated to add value. These attributes promote good work ethics and lead to decisions that are in the best interests of the organisation, rather than that of the individual. Unfortunately, most organisations are not well equipped to recognise, nurture and reward such attributes.
Q: Which business/trade-related publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc) do you enjoy reading?
A: One of the benefits arising from the pandemic is access to countless free industry and educational webinars where experts and academics share the latest developments and research. International tourism faces a long and unpredictable road to recovery. Webinars have been a valuable source for keeping up to date with new developments in this regard.
Q: What really inspires and motivates you personally?
A: I draw inspiration from the beauty of nature. We live in one of the most awe-inspiring and diverse countries in the world. Spending time in nature enthuses me and puts things into perspective again. I also feel inspired by people who stand up against injustice, whose actions speak of honesty and integrity.
Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person – in any domain – who sets an example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss?
A: Professor Thuli Madonsela – and we will discuss ways of cloning her.
Q: Going forward, what are your professional/business/personal goals?
A: My immediate pursuit is to use the knowledge I gained from my PhD to help protected areas apply the research available to them more efficiently. As the custodians of natural, historical and cultural heritage, they are under immense pressure to deliver benefits to communities and provide quality visitor experiences to generate revenue to fund conservation. They need to deliver this while upholding the integrity of the very environment they protect. Research is critical for effective decision-making in such complex environments.
Q: Lastly, COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. In your opinion, how can South Africa best overcome its current economic woes and increasing joblessness?
A: South Africa has so much growth potential, but we must first address the political and leadership issues. In the short term, we should go back to basics: Manage state funds more efficiently and root out corruption by holding those involved accountable. Drastically curb government spending and increase productivity. Focus on creating an environment conducive for attracting investment and jobs should follow.