Career detour brought tourism success for Durban businessman

Discover Travel and Tours contracts to major inbound tour operators taking tourists on guided trips around the province.
DURBAN – When Phoenix financial professional Leon Rajoo lost his job, instead of searching desperately with millions of unemployed people for that elusive opportunity, he took a risk to start his own business in somewhat uncharted territory.

Rajoo, owner of Discover Travel and Tours, who obtained his Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Westville, Durban (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal), was an unlikely entrant into the tourism industry, after holding multiple positions in financial divisions of the corporate world. Rajoo was one of several entrepreneurs who were given the chance to exhibit their businesses at Africa’s Travel Indaba, in Durban, recently.

He worked in finance for Smith and Nephew, Unilever, Clover and, finally, Thompson’s Travel, before stepping out of the mould to join the latter’s core business services, where he worked as a consultant and was later promoted to touring manager in charge of tour guides. He worked for the firm for 15 years.

“Just after the Soccer World Cup in 2010, I was retrenched and I was left without a job, and all the commitments to fulfil and a bond to pay,” Rajoo said.

Rajoo said he had taken a course in tour guiding, just to learn more about the day-to-day experiences of his staff, not long before he was retrenched, a move he now views, in hindsight, as divine providence. As a result he became a qualified, registered tour guide.

“I thought, ‘I’m accredited, let’s do some tours’. I decided to sell my personal car and buy a vehicle conducive to transporting passengers. Just after the World Cup, there was a lull in tourism and people asked me if I was mad because I had just been retrenched from a travel business and there I was, wanting to start a travel business,” Rajoo said.

“But there were clients and the business started to grow with the blessing of God and eventually my wife, Desiree, was forced to leave her job in the bank to come on board,” he said.

Discover Travel and Tours business owner Leon Rajoo, with his wife Desiree Rajoo, and deputy minister of tourism Elizabeth Thabethe, at Africa’s Travel Indaba, which was held in Durban recently. Supplied

“I didn’t draw a salary for three years and we just used the money we really needed to pay the bond and buy food. We built up a reserve of cash flow and went to the bank to apply for a loan for a second vehicle, and from there it grew,” he said.

Today, Rajoo owns several vehicles and contracts largely to major inbound tour operators taking tourists on guided trips around the province in small and large coaches. He employs four office staff, four drivers, two tour guides, and additional contracted staff as needed.

“I’ve come to accept it’s never all doom and gloom and we can take advantage of new opportunities,” Rajoo said.


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