A trip to Maropeng, the official visitor’s centre for the Cradle of Humankind, would not be complete without a guided tour from one of the resident tour guides who will take you on a fascinating journey back in time to the beginning of the origin of our species.
Beverly Makopo, who was recently named the 2013 Best Site Guide at the annual West Rand Tourism Awards, has been promoted to the position of Maropeng Operations Supervisor. In her new role she will be tasked with supervising the 20-strong team of site guides when they are rostered to work at Maropeng, the Maropeng Ticket Office staff and ensuring that the best customer service is delivered at the centre’s ticket office.
But for Makopo, being a tour guide is much more than a job. Tourism has been her passion and clearly a vocation that she lives for. “I fell in love with the idea of the tourism industry when I was at school and we had a careers day presentation,” she says. She followed her bliss and studied a Tourism National Diploma at the Tshwane University of Technology. After she graduated in 2010, she had her first child but that didn’t deter her from pursuing her career path and she ventured out to the West Rand to find her perfect job. She had her heart set on Maropeng and approached the visitors centre directly by introducing herself in person. A few days later, after an extensive interview, she was offered the position of tour guide. “I knew about the Cradle of Humankind from my studies,” she explains. “I entered Maropeng knowing I was taking on a junior position but I believe one has to start at the bottom to really understand a business,” she says, adding that now she can only move upwards.
Tour guides at Maropeng have a busy day and on an average day Beverly would conduct up to five tours. The day begins with a morning meeting to discuss the day’s events and assign tours to the various guides, a process she will now oversee. This is followed by performing the ‘daily routine’ which involves prepping for the tours, the first of which begins at 10h00. “Each guide works a 15-day shift, alternating between taking tours of the Maropeng Visitor Centre and the Sterkfontein Caves,” she says.
“Makopo’s success is based on the level of interest she shows in her work and on the fact that she is continuously curious and working on upgrading her knowledge,” says Tony Rubin, Managing Director of Maropeng. In the two years that Makopo has been a site guide, she has also completed a formal tour guide qualification by becoming Theta accredited with a cultural site guide level 2 qualification. This means she can independently create a guided experience for customers, enhancing her skills set.
“A key focus for Maropeng is the training and up-skilling of its staff,” says Rubin. “We are always on the lookout for staff who demonstrate the will, talent and commitment to further their careers at Maropeng.” Makopo has certainly shown her commitment and will be studying her Masters in Tourism over the next two years.
The secret, she says, is to love what you do. “I have learnt valuable skills in presentation and interpersonal communication skills,” adding that dealing with foreign tourists has been an eye opener for her. She’s had to learn to be a diplomat. “I have to be sharp as sometimes you are expected to enter into a hot debate around evolution…”
So to newcomers or to those thinking of entering the industry, Mokopo’s advice is to plan what you want to do, do the work (study) to get there, and be proactive about pursuing the career you want to go into.