She began her career in South Africa, at travel agency Exclusive Getaways, before becoming national sales manager at Gatsby International Hotels. She then moved to the UK in 2005 to become product manager at African Affair Travel. In 2007, van der Merwe launched her own company, London-based Boutique Travel Marketing, providing marketing and representation for African tourism products.
Commenting on the position, SA Tourism’s chief executive Thulani Nzima said: "Tolene is the ideal candidate for this job because of her wide-ranging and expert industry experience, both within South Africa and the UK. Her strong trade background means she is well-suited to driving our arrivals figures from the UK and maintaining its strong position as the number one market for international visitors to South Africa."