South Africa’s hi-tech tour operator
- 31 January 2013
- From the section Africa
Imagine being in a foreign country, sitting on a tour bus, and having the possibility of borrowing a tablet computer to get online and call home to tell your family about your trip, or being able to charge your mobile phone while an expert tour guide shows you around.
That is the kind of technological feat that won Shaheed Ebrahim, owner of the Escape to the Cape tour company, the 2011/2012 Emerging Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year award in South Africa.
Last year, about 4.5 million tourists visited Cape Town, so there is fierce competition to attract customers from this growing market.
"There are hundreds of tour operators out in Cape Town but the difference is that we've taken technology that's available and put it onto our tours, thereby enhancing the tours," he told the BBC's series African Dream.
"What's the technology I'm talking about? Wi-fi on a moving vehicle, so somebody could be taking a photo, say of Table Mountain, and as you drive into the next spot, they could be Facebooking it and Tweeting it, and emailing it to anybody," he explained.
He added that his company also provides customised telephony applications on board.
"With Skype they could call whichever country they want to. We've got applications for the US clients so they can call a landline or a mobile number in the US from the complimentary iPads that we have on the vehicle."
Escape to the Cape has also thought about something which can be a real nightmare for tourists in many parts of the world - finding the right adaptors for their electric equipment.
"Every seat virtually has got a facility to charge any device - whether it's a cell phone, whether it's an iPod or iPad, whatever device that they have, and in all about 12 gadgets could be charged simultaneously," the entrepreneur said.
Besides the communication technology, there is also a fridge on board for the clients to use, and he offers them complimentary water or a taste of some of the world-famous Western Cape wines.
From banking to tourism
Mr Ebrahim knows from experience what visitors to a foreign country usually expect.
After completing a Bachelor of Commerce degree in marketing, he worked for a few years in the United Kingdom and travelled widely.
In August 2009, he left his job as a private banker when he was asked to relocate to India - where the bank he worked for was based - and was planning to open a petrol station.
But his wife, knowing that he enjoyed showing visiting relatives and friends around Cape Town, advised him to do an accredited tour guiding course, in time for the football World Cup which took place in South Africa in 2010, so that he could be part of the experience.
"In October 2009, I completed the course and started guiding part-time till the World Cup came, where I was kept quite busy," the entrepreneur remembers.
"It went so well that I continued but always having in the back of my mind that this was only a part-time thing."
However, inspired by his dream of being his own boss, his flair for entrepreneurship and his love for Cape Town, he decided to start his tour company.
He spent around $4,000 (£2,500) to register it, get a website and pay for marketing collaterals.
Mr Ebrahim then took out around $32,000 out of his mortgage to buy a 7-seater vehicle to which he added the latest gadgets.
"My medium-term plan for this business is to grow my own fleet so that I can have more vehicles around Cape Town and my long-term plan is to actually go national, around South Africa. I have had many private-equity funders wanting me to go national," the entrepreneur said.
Prashant Bajaj, an Indian tourist who was spending his honeymoon with his wife Risha in Cape Town, told the BBC's Mohammed Allie that it was the availability of the latest technology that attracted them to use Escape to the Cape.
"It was very unique and I think it was very innovative for someone to do that. The technology is really advancing, and I think it's a very good idea for him to incorporate technology into tourism. I think it's the best idea ever because it makes life easier for us," he said.
"In a sense, all of us carry our own cameras but it's easier to just upload them down the iPad and, while going, we can view it even more efficiently so it makes life easier, and through the wi-fi you can easily transfer the data immediately on your laptop."
So what advice does Mr Ebrahim have for people who would like to start their own business?
"Follow your instinct, do some research but most of all enjoy what you are doing, then take a calculated risk," he said.
"Without having a passion or enjoying what you're doing, getting up every morning wanting to do it, you're not going to succeed and I've had personal experience of this.
"Secondly, it's the perseverance because many times you get into an industry - whether it's tourism or anything else - you get inundated and you get sucked into the old industry that's going on, and all the negativity, so you need to persevere in terms of bad times as well, and thirdly, you have to be innovative, you have to come up with something different."
If you have any questions for Shaheed Ibrahim, please join him in a live Q&A on the BBC Africa Facebook page from 1600 - 1700GMT on Friday 1 February
African Dream is broadcast on the BBC Focus on Africa radio programme every Thursday afternoon, and on BBC World News throughout the day on Fridays
Every week, one successful business man or woman will explain how they started off and what others could learn from them.