Graduate School of Business
and Leadership

Design Thinking will Help Boost KZN Tourism Sector – Finds Research

Dr Zahir Sayed
A proud moment for Dr Zahir Sayed.

Tourism was one of the sectors most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization – and the South African industry was not spared the hardships! This motivated Dr Zahir Sayed to embark on a research journey which earned him a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

The title of his study was: Design Thinking as a Strategic Lever in Promoting Tourism in KwaZulu-Natal.  Sayed was supervised by Professor Cecile Proches and Dr Simon Taylor of the Graduate School of Business and Leadership and Dr Abdulla Kader, UKZN adjunct lecturer from Nedbank in Durban.

Sayed’s study explored the contribution of design thinking – an approach intended for practical and creative problem-solving – as a strategic lever within the tourism sector in KwaZulu-Natal.

The study showed that design thinking can be established within this sector to promote tourism with various strategic outcomes. Sayed has subsequently developed a design thinking framework model aimed at enabling the tourism sector and its leadership to confront their challenges strategically through the effective implementation and use of design thinking. 

The information obtained from this study offered sufficient justification for the development of a design thinking model given the current difficulties facing the tourism industry. The study recommended that once the tourism industry collaborates and engages with key stakeholders within their own circle and surroundings, the design thinking model developed from this study should be applied with various customised strategies.

Sayed says his investigations demonstrate the power of action research in solving real business and societal problems.

In his job as a regional production planning and scheduling specialist for the KZN region of the South African Revenue Services, Sayed supports operational management teams to schedule their users according to a specific published production plan, and to monitor the regional adherence to this process. His role additionally involves the capacity management of branch office resources for virtual and office appointments. 

He plans to engage with the tourism industry more rigorously in an attempt to make inroads into presenting the model at a government level as well as in the private sector. ‘My study found that collaboration, which is a key ingredient for this sector, was missing. I am hopeful that my study and its related outcomes serve as a catalyst and stimulate better synergy between all key stakeholders,’ he said. 

Reflecting on his achievement he said: ‘All praise is due to almighty ALLAH for blessing me with this opportunity and for granting me the strength and determination to successfully complete the study.’ He explained that he felt a sense of accomplishment, especially since the journey involved its fair share of “turbulences”, ranging from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism sector which directly affected his research study, to the loss of a loved one. ‘It has been emotional on many levels and I am really humbled by my achievement.’

‘I was fortunate to have three excellent supervisors. I have previously worked with Professor Proches and Dr Kader who both bring unique perspectives to the table – Proches from an academic angle while Kader always provides industry’s viewpoint. The experience was really encouraging and inspiring for a doctoral student,’ he said. ‘It was my first experience with Dr Taylor and his expertise really guided me.’

He says the supervisors allowed him to express himself freely and make a valuable contribution while keeping him aligned in terms of doctoral level research requirements.

Said Dr Kader in response: ‘As supervisors and being on this journey with you, it gives us all great pleasure to see you achieve this milestone in your academic journey. Your hard work, resilience and attitude have been admirable. The manner in which you accepted constructive feedback will hold you in good stead. You are bound to do great things in the world. It is our wish that you build a field of virtue that will transform your life and light up our world.’

Words: Hazel Langa

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan