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#InnovationMonth: Cape Town Pass, tech for greater access to the city

Cape Town Pass - a single purchase, digital access pass that allows tourists and conference delegates visiting the City to experience the very best that Cape Town and the Western Cape has to offer, was recently launched at Hotel Verde. We spoke to serial entrepreneur, co-owner and founder of Cape Town Pass, Marnus van Niekerk - the same man who brought us Ticketpro, HiTech-Doctors and Mastercare to name a few - to find out more about the pass, it's development and what the industry can expect from it.
Cape Town Pass Launch, Sept 2016 at Hotel Verde
Cape Town Pass Launch, Sept 2016 at Hotel Verde

Tell us about Cape Town pass

Marnus van Niekerk: It all started because we realised that Cape Town is one of the premier destinations in the world, but Cape Town, unlike other popular cities, doesn’t have a single solution that offers visitors convenience. So, we started working towards creating that single solution. We want to make it as convenient as possible for people when they come to Cape Town because we believe if they have a great experience in Cape Town, they’ll tell their friends and family and then more people will come to Cape Town.

Take us through the development process for both the application and business side of it

Van Niekerk: The technology always starts with designing a data model that is extremely flexible, trying to envision every possible scenario that might happen and designing a data model that caters for that. And then building an interface on top of that data model that the staff, partners and public can interface with.

In terms of developing the business with the partners, it’s really just putting feet on the ground – meeting with one tourist attraction after another, talking about the merits of being on board and talking about being partners.

What were the reactions of the businesses you approached when you pitched Cape Town Pass to them?

There were various reactions – there were those that saw the opportunity right away and agreed to work with us, some said they don’t need to be part of anything like this, and then there were a few that adopted a 'wait and see' approach. Now that we’ve shown that we can do what we promised to do, the last group is ready to work with us. Various responses, but mostly positive.

What lessons did you learn from your previous ventures that helped you in developing Cape Town Pass?

Van Niekerk: The most important lessons I learned from previous ventures is to have processes and procedures in place from the start. You have to have everything in place to control the budget very tightly, as with any new startup or business. From day one, you have to have processes in place for customer care and to deal with the attractions. You cannot be a fly by night and try to manage it without processes and controls because then it is going to fail.

Tell us about how Wesgro came on board and what role they have or will play with Cape Town Pass

Van Niekerk: We wanted to be able to really make a mark in the industry and really show our partners that we are serious about what we are doing and that is why we approached Wesgro to partner with us and endorse us officially for the Western Cape province and Cape Town. Wesgro saw the opportunity to not only benefit the city but also benefit the other regions of the Western Cape. That is where there was synergy between what we were doing and what they were doing - in promoting the province - so that is why they came on board. As for our part of the equation, that is why we are expanding into the five regions of the Western Cape and not just focusing on the city of Cape Town. We are taking the tourists that are already coming to Cape Town and exposing them to the rest of the province.

#InnovationMonth: Cape Town Pass, tech for greater access to the city

Tell us about your strategy to promote the Cape Town Pass

Van Niekerk: We have quite a few strategies. Firstly, we have an incentive programme in place that has two manifestations. In the real world, stores all over the Western Cape will display our branding. People will be able to scan a unique QR code on that branding, buy our pass and the store will earn an incentive based on that. It also has a digital manifestation, on websites and blogs - anything on the internet can display our branding. If people click through and buy our pass, that website or blog will earn an incentive.

In addition to that, we’ve put a programme in place where we will have pre-printed passes all over the city, in stores - they will go into the goodie bags for events like the Argus Cycle Tour, the Two Oceans Marathon, etc. Inside those goodie bags, participants will find our pass.

With the massive growth of and focus on business tourism, do you plan to tap into that market with events and conferences that will take place in the province, partner with the CTICC, for example, and get the passes out that way?

Van Niekerk: Yes, absolutely. In fact, a division of Wesgro is the Convention Bureau and their role within Wesgro are to promote the Western Cape as a conference destination – they partner with venues like the CTICC and other conference venues to bring conferences to Cape Town and the Western Cape. As part of our partnership with Wesgro, we're putting together specific delegate passes for those conferences – both generalised as a pass that visitors can buy and also bespoke for every single conference. The passes will be base on the particular programme so that their conference delegates can maximise their time in Cape Town.

What makes Cape Town Pass unique when compared to other programmes offering something similar?

Van Niekerk: The fact that we don’t ask absurd discounts from the vendors, suppliers, establishments and attractions, but the normal rack rate or Standard Tour Operator (STO) rates that they would be parting with for tour operators and travel agents. It’s a harmonious, collective partnership for tourism and conferencing that lets everyone make a few Rand and get good business. We don’t go for the 50-60% plus discounts and incentives. It’s nice to get the feet, but then there’s no margin in it.

I’ve said from the start that every pass like this needs to be a partnership with the industry, it can’t be a company running a pass that is trying to rip off the industry by expecting large discounts. It has to be a partnership that is beneficial to our businesses and attractions – big and small – where together we grow the industry and bring more people to Cape Town. We’re not trying to steal from the attractions, we’re trying to grow the industry and that is what sets us apart.

What’s next for Cape Town Pass, Could it be SA Pass soon?

Van Niekerk: We get asked that question very often. I believe in establishing one strong base in order to establish the next base. So, we are focusing on Cape Town and we’re planning to do Cape Town well. Once we’ve done that, we may consider moving into the other cities.

About Cari Van Wyk

Cari Coetzee is a contributor to Bizcommunity Tourism, Agriculture and Lifestyle.

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