Kim Whitaker was so blown away by travelling after university that she decided to make a living from it.
At 23, she had to lie about her age to be taken seriously and dig into her own pocket to buy her first backpackers’ hostel, 33 South, converted from a student residence in Cape Town.
She later encouraged a management buyout by the staff, who also owned shares. Her most recent baby is Once in Cape Town, an “all-star hostel”, based on an idea that is taking off globally to offer the best of a hotel and backpackers’.
Backpackers’ are fun, she says, but sometimes dirty and unsafe, while hotels are consistent but boring. So she blended the two, creating not just a place to sleep but also somewhere guests can tailor their experience, with a weekly calendar of different activities each day in categories such as “jol”, “local is lekker”, “why not?” and “off the beaten track”.
Once has become tremendously successful and in 2015 Whitaker was named Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year at the Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year Competition.
A priority for Whitaker is skills development and training. “Hiring someone in hospitality is not like engineering,” she says. “A lot of people come to your door without a matric. That’s why we have training in-house and internships, because in hospitality, with the right skills, you can work your way all the way up to being a general manager.”
Find Kim on Twitter: @onceincapetown