29 January 2013

Namibia: Pensioner Helps Son to Venture Into Tourism

Windhoek — Not with start-up capital from a bank, which is extremely difficult to secure in any case for previously disadvantaged Namibians, but with a N$120 000 loan from a trusting mother and business wit.

Julius Gaweseb has managed to build one of Namibia's most promising tourism companies, Vulkan Ruine Tours and Transfers. Vulkan Ruine Tours and Transfers takes its name from the ancient and dormant volcano on the Brandberg mountain in the former Damaraland, and refers to the remains you still find on the mountain today.

Gaweseb grew up in the vicinity of the mountain as a young boy with his grandparents, who were farmers. The young entrepreneur was employed as a long-distance driver on the coastal route for six years, before his life changed dramatically. "I saw the way my child was living and I decided to help him when he approached me with a request to buy his own kombi," Mama Gaweses, a retired hostel worker from Karibib recollects.

She had a good feeling about the business and decided to give her son the N$120 000 dollars that he needed to buy a microbus.

"Maybe he is successful, because I gave him the money with a good heart. And it was also an investment that I am currently benefitting from," she adds.

Julius bought a Volkswagen Kombi and a Toyota Tazz with the money from his mother. "And that was the last time I bought a second-hand car," Gaweseb recollects. Armed with his two second-hand cars, he founded the company Vulkan Ruine Tours and Transfers in August 2008.

Initially his aim was to become a tour operator, and once he got into the industry, he realised that being a tour operator is all about relationships. "Many people or clients pay money long before they arrive in Namibia. So it is very important to establish that trust and be able to deliver on one's promises," Gaweseb emphasises.

Gaweseb has used every opportunity to grow his business and join the Namibia Tourism Board on its empowerment programme, which enabled him to participate in international tourism platforms.

"We left for the World Travel Market in London in November 2008, and for ITB Berlin in March 2009, and thereafter, we became actively involved with the Namibia Tourism Board and started to participate in their road shows and trade fairs," he relates.

Soon, Gaweseb realised that his company had to generate revenue and he started to look at alternative opportunities in the tourism industry, taking the world economic crisis into account. "We became a transport service provider for Air Namibia, and established ourselves as a staff transportation provider for the Windhoek Country Club Resort and Casino, Kalahari Sands Hotel and Casino, Bank of Namibia, MVA Fund, GIZ, amongst others."

When the tender for the Country Club Resort and Casino for staff transportation was advertised, Gaweseb was initially reluctant to bid for it. However, just a day before the closing date for the tender, he handed in his documents. "I did not have the best business plan or the cheapest bid, but I managed to get the tender because I told them I would serve them with new vehicles, which I did not even have at that stage," Gaweseb recalls with a smile.

The trick, he says, was to get the Country Club Resort and Casino to give him the payment for his fuel consumption a few months upfront, which he in turn used to buy new vehicles for the transportation of the company's employees.

After acquiring the vehicles, Gaweseb who used to rent a flat, was ordered to vacate the premises since he could not accommodate all the vehicles that he had accumulated. He decided to buy a place from which to run his business, which today serves both as his home and business premises. The company now owns a fleet of more than 20 vehicles, and there are plans to acquire more as the company grows.

Vulkan Ruine Tours and Transfers introduced a business class service, the Scheduled Airport Bus Shuttle Service, shuttling between Hosea Kutako International Airport and Windhoek. "We provide the kind of business class service on our buses normally only available when flying your favourite airline. This is what the Airport Bus Shuttle Service would like you to experience every time you board our buses."

Based on the latest FNB Namibia/Fenata Tourism Index of 2012, which indicates that the preferences of tourists have shifted from the luxury segment to the more affordable segment, Gaweseb says this clearly shows that tourists compare prices.

"Vulkan Ruine Tours and Transfers has established itself as a provider of comfortable, convenient, affordable, reliable and safe service. We always strive to improve our service and to provide only the best to our customers. Without striving continuously for excellence in our service delivery, we would not have been here today," he adds.

Gaweseb admits that the tourism market is not an easy one, as it is still dominated by Europeans. However, what makes it difficult for the previously disadvantaged is the lack of trust and familiarity rather than race. Vulkan Ruine Tours and Transfers owns Merzedez Benz buses, Quantum busses, Overlanders, Toyota Corolas, Ateos, as well as Volkswagen busses.

The two Overlander trucks are also serving the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, such as South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The company employs 25 people, with plans to hire more. The company recently upgraded its website, and tour bookings and requests are growing.

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