Worldwide acknowledgement for newbie tourism entrepreneurs in South Africa
Just ten years after Ypie Kingma (47) and Erik Ekkelkamp (52) started Platinum Golf, Tours & Accommodation in South Africa, their business has been nominated for the ‘Africa’s best Golf Tour Operator 2014’ award. In 2004, the two entrepreneurs had leaped from Moscow via Amsterdam to Knysna, South Africa, to build their business on the concept of quality and personalised service. These two entrepreneurs shared their succesful story with Club Africa.
In 2004, you started your business from scratch. How did that happen?
Ypie: “We both had worked for companies like Philips, Independent Media and an American supplier of computers to the Russian market in Moscow, Russia for the 6 years prior to moving to South Africa. The financial crisis in the nineties hit Russia hard and we decided to follow an old dream – working and living in South Africa.”
What steps did you take?
“We had already been here on several occasions, looking for opportunities. When – due to South Africa’s strict work permit regulations – it became clear it would be virtually impossible to find a regular job with our skills and experience, the next step was to investigate the options to start our own company. At the time that gave us the opportunity to obtain a different type of work permit, which allowed us to invest in the country, employ people and pay taxes. Running a guesthouse seemed easy and fairly straightforward, so that is what we opted for. It was a steep but fun learning curve! From that point, we started offering trips.”
Your business just took off?
“We have no formal training in either golf or the travel industry. By running a guesthouse ourselves we learned the ropes of the business: marketing the property through networking with other accommodation owners, contracting with tour operators, going to travel shows and of course marketing online through online travel agencies and nowadays social media.”
How did the business develop?
“We initially focused on the Garden Route only, but have expanded our activities throughout South Africa as demand grew. Guests kept returning, asking for alternative destinations within South Africa. Also more and more inquiries are coming in for non-golfing tours, as people are getting used to our service standards, and referring us to their friends and family as well.”
“The guided (golf)tours Platinum Golf, Tours & Accommodation offers in the Garden Route region come in through colleague (golf)tour operators who have their offices and operate mostly in other parts of the country, and use us as their ‘Garden Route branch’. The guests who come through those operators come mostly from the USA, with Asia as a growing market. We organise the majority of our self-drive tours for Dutch guests, although we receive regular inquiries from Belgium, Germany and the US as well.”
Why did you choose this region?
The Garden Route has been voted the No. 1 Golf Destination of the Year for Africa and the Gulf States by the global trade association of the golf tourism industry, IAGTO in 2006 and again in 2014. We also offer trips to other major golfing destinations within South Africa like Cape Town and the Winelands, but also the KwaZulu Natal coast and of course Sun City are very well-known.”
What makes your business stand out to get a nomination for a world award?
“Our hands-on approach makes all the difference. We understand what golfers are looking for: we ask the right questions with regard to their wishes and expectations, we realize they need to be at a golf course at a certain time and advise either the guests or their driver/guide accordingly. We take care of the nitty-gritty of booking tee-off times at the different courses, which we have visited ourselves and mostly played as well.”
“The key thing: we are not a run-of-the-mill operator. We can be reached 24 hours a day, should things go wrong for whatever reason. We provide that little bit extra which our guests have learnt to appreciate and expect. Actually to the extent that we’re organizing more and more non-golfing tours as well, because people enjoy the service we provide.”
What comes next?
“We’re still small: it’s just Erik and myself. We do work with a team of independent tour guides, different service providers etc., but essentially it is just the two of us. And because we provide such a personal service I don’t think that will change soon…”