Bussing around town
With the weakening rand, South Africa is becoming more affordable for the international tourist wanting to tour our country. CLAIRE RENCKEN speaks to a couple of bus and coach operators that are positioning themselves to take advantage of this trend.
Shaun Mason of City Sightseeing South Africa, based in Cape Town, is one such operator. “The tourism industry has always been very competitive, especially with there being so many bus and coach operators in the marketplace. The key factor is to offer the best service at the most affordable price.
“City Sightseeing is a globally connected brand, which is locally operated in over 100 cities around the world. Local and international tourists, wanting to explore our beautiful city in a safe and reliable way, identify with our recognisable brand, and with our affordable ticket prices.”
Needless to say, there are several challenges facing the bus and coach tourism industry which need to be overcome. “The high fuel and labour costs have significantly affected the transport industry. We have had to work smarter to streamline the expenses within the business to allow us to focus on what is important to us – our passengers,” says Mason.
An exciting development for City Sightseeing has been the low-emission engines in its imported buses. “We were also the first bus company in South Africa to be accredited as ‘carbon neutral’ with the offset of our carbon emissions. We feel that we are the leaders in the bus industry in this regard, and encourage others to do the same,” he adds.
City Sightseeing has been in operation for more than ten years. During that time, the bus and coach industry has certainly seen some major changes. “The industry has grown in leaps and bounds over the years. With many international events now taking place in South Africa, we have adapted to the changing needs of the tourists in order to offer them a variety of touring options.
“For example, in the past, we had live guides giving commentary on the buses. However, over time, we needed to offer commentary in additional languages. So, we developed a multi-language commentary system, which can be accessed at every seat. It is available in 16 different languages and even includes a kids’ channel. Earphones are provided with the purchase of a bus ticket, to reduce the noise factor,” Mason elaborates.
Looking back on why Claus Tworeck decided to start the company, Mason reflects: “There were many operators in the marketplace all offering the same service, but we saw an opportunity to offer something totally different. Operating double-decker buses, which allow a regular hop-on and -off service, was something that enabled us to connect people to the various attractions in the city, but at the same time afforded them the freedom to plan their time as they needed.”
City Sightseeing’s topless buses cover the inner city area, and operate in both Cape Town and Johannesburg. “We bring the city and its attractions to the tourists, in that we connect the dots, and provide an affordable, safe, fun and educational way of exploring the city. In Cape Town, we offer our ‘red’ city tour, as well as the ‘blue’ mini peninsula tour. In Joburg, we also offer a ‘red’ city tour, as well as a Soweto tour,” he says.
The company has a sizable fleet, to enable it to operate buses every 15 minutes, seven days a week, from 09:00 until 17:00. “We ensure that our vehicles are maintained in perfect running order and thus operate at maximum efficiency. Having correctly trained staff is also a necessity, as they are our ambassadors for the country,” stresses Mason.
Another recognised brand, which continues to do well in the industry, is Springbok Atlas. For more than six decades, the company has, literally, moved millions of people, safely and reliably, to and from their destinations in its fleet of luxury coaches and vehicles.
From humble beginnings back in 1946, involving just one bus, transporting groups from the Johannesburg area to the Kruger National Park, Springbok Atlas Luxury Charter has grown into one of the largest, complete luxury transport management companies in South Africa and Namibia. Today, it has a fleet of over 80 luxury vehicles, and is owned by Cullinan Holdings.
It is now in the trusted position of official transport provider to some of South Africa’s national treasures – the Springbok Rugby Team and Kaizer Chiefs. It was also the official transport provider of choice for the 2010 Soccer World Cup teams and supporters.
How does this complete transportation management specialist remain successful in today’s tough economic climate? “Simple – by meeting the needs and high standards of its client base, which includes tour operators, corporates, incentive experts, government departments, conference organisers, event managers, sports bodies and educational institutions,” explains Geert van Doorn, CEO for Cullinan Transport Division.
The company owns all its modern luxury coaches and vehicles and takes full responsibility for rigorous vehicle maintenance, servicing and hygiene, as well as thorough pre-departure and safety inspections.
It provides a full turnkey service with sophisticated ground handling, on-board computer monitoring and 24-hour communications, to ensure the highest standards of customer service. Furthermore, its professional drivers are engaged in an ongoing in-house programme of driver training, motivation, customer service and performance management.
It would seem that the old adage “the customer [or in this instance, the tourist] is always right” definitely applies to the bus and coach tourism industry.