Putting a new spin on tourism

Re­serveTime is an on­line plat­form aimed at em­pow­er­ing guides to con­nect di­rectly with con­sumers.

Finweek English Edition - - THE WEEK - By Jana Jacobs ed­i­to­rial@fin­week.co.za

at the end of 2016, Rhein­hardt Schulze, his wife Mia and their busi­ness part­ner, Hein­rich Rönt­gen, launched an on­line plat­form called Re­serveTime hop­ing to em­power guides across South Africa, and South­ern Africa, by cre­at­ing a mar­ket­place where they could ad­ver­tise their skills and ser­vices di­rectly to tourists.

Af­ter six months of devel­op­ment, re­servetime. co.za – the Airbnb for con­trac­tors, as Rhein­hardt Schulze de­scribes it – went live in Jan­uary.

“In the first week or so of us go­ing live, 50-plus con­trac­tors had al­ready signed up,” Schulze tells fin­week. In Fe­bru­ary, this num­ber had risen to over 70. They started out with very lit­tle mar­ket­ing – they had sent out a few emails to their con­nec­tions in the in­dus­try. For Schulze, this is a clear in­di­ca­tion that there is de­mand for a plat­form like this. He says a sim­i­lar mech­a­nism has found ma­jor suc­cess in­ter­na­tion­ally and has been quite dis­rup­tive in the in­dus­try, but has not been tried in SA.

“We wanted this to be more than just a web­site, but a true e-com­merce plat­form that would pro­vide guides with the nec­es­sary re­sources to suc­cess­fully of­fer their ser­vices, in­de­pen­dently.” They hope that guides will be able to build sus­tain­able liveli­hoods from their pas­sion. This is not al­ways vi­able when work­ing through per­ma­nent em­ploy­ers like lodges, sa­fari out­fit­ters and tour op­er­a­tors.

Schulze and his wife have first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of this. They both re­signed from their jobs to “live their dream” and man­aged three pre­mier lodges in the Oka­vango Delta in Botswana. They wanted to find out if it was doable and whether a de­cent salary could be made. They only stayed for eight months.

“Al­though tourism is a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try, there isn’t de­cent money for the em­ploy­ees. To com­pound this, they have very lit­tle re­sources with which to tackle the in­dus­try on their own, so they are forced to take per­ma­nent em­ploy­ment,” he says. The plat­form can be used by guides who want to work in­de­pen­dently from per­ma­nent em­ploy­ment, or those who hope to earn ex­tra in­come dur­ing their spare time. It also be­comes a space where per­ma­nent em­ploy­ers could iden­tify guides.

An em­pow­er­ing force

While many con­trac­tors might find Re­serveTime daunt­ing, they have part­nered with a rep­utable non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion to help ed­u­cate guides about dig­i­tal me­dia, get them on­line and ex­pose them to the mar­ket ef­fec­tively.

“These guides might sim­ply just not have the re­sources to mar­ket them­selves, much less run a web­site. Firstly, we want to get them com­fort­able with cre­at­ing an on­line pres­ence – then be­com­ing fa­mil­iar with the On­line Book­ing En­quiry and Chat func­tion­al­i­ties [of Re­serveTime],” ex­plains Schulze.

The plat­form is free for the con­trac­tors. If they are in re­mote lo­ca­tions where in­ter­net ac­cess is not avail­able, the Re­serveTime SMS sys­tem makes sure they still re­ceive all no­ti­fi­ca­tions.

Re­serveTime is the prod­uct of the Schulzes' own pas­sion for the bush and is funded pri­vately. The mo­ti­va­tion was never to make money, as it were. “If we do, great.”

Charg­ing a com­mis­sion fee of the client, once they have paid for a con­trac­tor book­ing, is how Re­serveTime gen­er­ates rev­enue. At present this com­mis­sion is 10% of the to­tal book­ing, with a slid­ing scale ca­pa­bil­ity go­ing for­ward, says Schulze.

Re­serveTime does ver­ify the con­trac­tors through re­gional agen­cies and reg­is­trars, but Schulze em­pha­sises that the na­ture of the plat­form is to fa­cil­i­tate con­nec­tions be­tween con­trac­tors and cus­tomers. Once that con­nec­tion is made, the trans­ac­tion is in their hands.

The di­ver­sity of the con­trac­tors that have come on board is great, ex­plains Schulze. “We are see­ing young, pre­vi­ously dis­ad­van­taged guides as well as very se­nior guides who have been in the in­dus­try for as long as 30 years; men, women, young and old.”

Schulze hopes to use the cur­rent mo­men­tum to take the plat­form to the next level. This will in­clude build­ing an app and align­ing with a big distri­bu­tion net­work, us­ing the next two or three months to get more con­trac­tors on board.

It’s early days and while Re­serveTime has seen in­ter­est from tourists glob­ally via so­cial me­dia chan­nels and Google searches, a drive to sub­stan­tially grow their con­sumer base is one of the next im­por­tant steps for the plat­form.

What is the dream?

To al­low cus­tomers to “pitch” jobs to prospec­tive con­trac­tors as well – not just have con­trac­tors listed on the plat­form, so that any­one can cre­ate self-tailored ex­pe­ri­ences, com­plete with con­tracted guides, says Schulze. Di­rec­tor of Re­serveTime

Hein­rich Rönt­gen

Rhein­hardt and Mia Schulze Co-founders of Re­serveTime

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