On the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, Gavin Tollman, chief executive of Trafalgar, pays tribute to a great leader who sacrificed so much for his homeland

I am a proud son of Africa, and today marks an important milestone for us, 100 years since the birth of one of the great leaders and fathers of Africa, if not the world, Nelson Mandela, or as we know him, Madiba.

Five years after his passing, Madiba’s legacy remains as strong as ever. He is remembered as the man that peacefully and successfully steered South Africa from an apartheid pariah state to multiracial democracy.

His fight for freedom and subsequent leadership had a profound effect on my homeland and in doing so, the tourism industry too.

Madiba’s path in life shaped the world’s perceptions of South Africa. His messages of peace and reconciliation changed the public’s views of the nation, and as a result of his courageous actions, he opened the eyes of hundreds of thousands more international visitors to experience the rhythm of our country, to explore our spectacular landscapes, rugged coastlines, incredible wildlife as the spirited people of South Africa opened their hearts.

His actions, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, are renowned the world over, so it’s no surprise that visitors from a diversity of destinations and backgrounds continue to seek to understand more about the life journey of this magnificent man.

Between 1993, the last year of white minority rule, and 1999, the end of Mandela’s presidency, the number of Europeans holidaying in South Africa more than doubled from around 400,000 to almost one million. At this time North American tourism grew from 75,000 to almost 200,000.

Today, Madiba’s legacy is central to South Africa’s tourism industry. Cape Town is listed among the most popular city break destinations for UK travellers year after year.

Robben Island, where he was imprisoned for 18 years, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of South Africa’s biggest visitor attractions.

This demand to follow in Madiba’s footsteps has brought great opportunity to those operating in the area, with many experiences honouring Mandela’s memory, such as South Africa Tourism’s Madiba’s Journey App, featuring 27 Madiba-inspired attractions and sites.

For myself and my family, Madiba’s legacy of positive change is very close to our hearts and forever will be.

Along with our extended TTC family, we have been supporters of the Amy Foundation, which offers programmes to develop and empower youth within the Western Cape area.

We also have close ties to other great South Africans who are part of Madiba’s story. Rugby World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar, who famously shook hands with Madiba post World Cup victory in 1995, is a valued friend.

It is therefore fitting that we launched our inaugural Trafalgar Africa programme in Madiba’s centenary year – our heartfelt homage to this great South African.

We have introduced two new journeys through South Africa, both touching on Madiba’s legacy, where guests will dine with local Xhosa people, tasting their traditional dishes and hearing their stories, including what Madiba’s fight meant to them.

A visionary who recognised there was a much bigger picture. A compassionate individual who saw the opportunity for positivity in the face of the most extreme adversity.

A man who changed the perception and the fortunes of an entire nation. I am truly humbled by all that Madiba said, did and sacrificed for my homeland.

And my family and I are honoured to play our part in sustaining the immense tourism legacy he has created.