What started as a wild idea of 24 hour discos and compound style hostelling in the middle of Cape Town has ended in a ‘Number 1 hostel in Africa’ award and three properties with 70 beds and lots of space to move around. We spoke to Atlantic Point Backpackers Founders Tim Louw to learn more about the story behind this WYSE Travel Confederation and STAY WYSE member.
Tell us your story. How did your business get started?
While hiking the famous Machu Picchu trail in South America, two tired and weary friends were talking to pass the time while on the trail. South America had been a great new adventure for the last 9 months but life back home was soon calling.
While stumbling down from the summit of the Salkantay pass at 4600 m, we began discussing the idea of opening a hostel or backpackers lodge in South Africa. After staying in many along the journey, most of the time it was a hit and miss when booking hostels in South America – some were good and some were bad. We had the idea to create a lodge that once you booked you knew you would be in for a great experience. The ideas were flowing thick and fast and all kinds of crazy weird concepts and wonderful thoughts began to emerge – the beginning of the dream.
Ideas from a 24hr disco club hostel to a 10ft walled off hostel island in the city where everything goes, a couple of tequilas down at this stage. Upon arrival back in South Africa we sat down and had some more practical discussions.
What do travellers want and need? The following were prerequisites: great location, a great nights sleep which meant 4 star hotel quality beds and linen needed to be provided, clean and hot showers, large communal spaces where people can find a quiet corner or meet new friends, free WiFi that works and finally a free breakfast made from quality ingredients.
All of the essentials and more were put together and Atlantic Point Backpackers was created. The doors opened on the 11 June 2010.
What are your unique selling points? What makes you different?
We focus hugely on space, many hostels and backpacker lodges do everything they can to shove that extra bed into a tight corner, whereas we believe space creates comfort so we are strict with ourselves when designing to ensure there is more than enough room to move around our beds. All our bunks are designed and hand made to our specs to ensure enough head room which allows somebody to sit up right on the bottom bunk.
The second ingredient is our profit reinvestment. Each year we hold a large portion of profits within the business in order to upgrade and add anything that can enhance guests’ experience. Over the years we have added individual lockers which can not only fit a guest’s bag but also has charging points inside for laptop computers and cellphones. Plug points were added next to every bed in the house for convenience. We’ve also added a swimming pool, a large garden, redone our reception and even built a five hole putting green for guests to enjoy, plus much more.
Another unique ingredient is our intern policy. We have a unique staff hiring and training policy which makes large use of interns from all over the world. These interns are trained extensively in order to maintain a high level of service. Having them around means that there are constantly young , motivated people at all times who speak various languages at the front of house. This benefits our guests tremendously.
These interns are also trotting the globe and looking to meet new friends which means they love interacting with guests, which creates a family-like atmosphere within our establishment.
Finally and most importantly is service to our guests, our hostel is owner managed and run which means our names are attached to the final product. We take that very seriously and are therefore continually striving for service excellence.
What are some of your success stories?
We began in 2010 with one property (34 beds) in our portfolio and have managed to expand to three surrounding properties with 70 beds by 2015, and still manage to maintain a 75% occupancy year round. We won the Hostel World ‘Number 1 hostel in Africa’ award in 2012 and 2015, as well as the local Lilizela prize for ‘Best 4 star hostel in South Africa’ in 2013.
What are your future plans?
We are exploring various avenues to expand further in Cape Town as well as other areas within South Africa. Our great friend, James joined our partnership a year into operation and the three of us are conservation enthusiasts with a passion for wildlife, so we’re looking at some very exciting ways to incorporate wildlife conservation.
Our aim is to use these opportunities to bring a unique, new product to the backpacking market. This will certainly enhance our guest experience whilst playing our little part in giving back to our planet, so keep an eye on us in 2016.
Which trends and challenges do you see in the youth travel sector?
Trends: Most youth lodges are moving towards a boutique model. The youth sector is leading the way with regards to implementing technology and trying new things vs. traditional large hotel groups.
Challenges: Private equity killing the small players? And guests are expecting great value for their money, so your product needs to be delivering.
What was your motivation to join WYSE Travel Confederation?
To be able to connect with a larger community.
Any top tips for people starting out in the youth travel sector?
Value and service don’t go out of fashion.
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WYSE Travel Confederation values all of its members and enjoys hearing and sharing the stories behind the brands and organisations that build up our ever growing community of service providers to the youth and student travel industry. If you would like to see your story herecontact us, or join WYSE as a member.
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