Putting a new spin on tourism
ReserveTime is an online platform aimed at empowering guides to connect directly with consumers.
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
Rheinhardt and Mia Schulze Co-founders of ReserveTime