Kim Whitaker, the co-founder of Once In Cape Town, a four-star backpacking establishment in Kloof Street, in the heart of Cape Town, is living her dream of offering travellers comfort on a budget.
Whitaker understands the good, the bad and the ugly of being an entrepreneur. Once In Cape Town is a luxury backpackers’ establishment in Kloof Street. A similar offering will open in Johannesburg soon.
Her road to success
Since opening her first backpackers’ lodge in Observatory, Cape Town, at the age of 23 and running it for seven years, she joined a team of entrepreneurs to co-establish Once In Cape Town, where she has helped revive the struggling Saasveld Lodge. The establishment overlaps the divide between being a luxury hotel and a backpackers’ hub.
She was recognised as the Sanlam Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year 2015 due to her innovative and creative business and marketing strategies. Whitaker managed to increase occupancy rates from 32 percent to 80 percent within a year.
The business has managed to maintain a 23 percent profit margin. The lodge is now recognised as a four-star establishment in the backpacking category by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa.
Whitaker said Once In Cape Town got off the ground after the group received seed investment in 2013 from investor Johan Nel, who has experience in the hotel industry and retail.
“The property used to be called Saasveld Lodge, and was a sleepy two-star lodge. We created a vibrant youth hub, by partnering with restaurateur Daniel Holland of Yours Truly. We are now graded four stars in backpacking with Tourism grading South Africa,” Whitaker said.
“We have bootstrapped Once in Joburg, which is centrally located in the bustling neighbourhood of Braamfontein,” she said.
Whitaker said the company had its sights set on expanding into the rest of Africa, including Victoria Falls, in the near future.
“In five years’ time, I hope to have two more Once branded properties – I have my eye on Kenya next… See you at Once In Nairobi!”
Advice for business success
- Do something you are passionate about. That way, when you are up until 1am it doesn’t feel like work, but a naturally energising experience.
- Value your support network. Surround yourself with people who commend your passion and enthusiasm, and support you when the going gets tough. Being an entrepreneur means uncertainty, risk and reward, in different cycles, and being well supported throughout the different lifecycle of your business by friends, family, business partners and your team makes every day worthwhile.
- Invest in the right people. At Once youth hotels, we believe in enlightened hospitality – the concept that if the staff feels supported, challenged and part of a team, they will extend a natural exuberance and genuine hospitality to your guests. We encourage our staff to work together towards common goals, and bring each other up as a team.
- Finally – the most boring! Manage your business monthly by keeping a finger on the financials. A balance of the income statement, balance sheet and cash flow should do the trick. After putting your blood, sweat and tears into an idea, the financial reward is the final pat on the back which makes entrepreneurship and job creation sustainable.
This article was first published by the SUNDAY INDEPENDENT.