24 May 2010
Due to high levels of poverty, the Cape Flats have traditionally fallen outside Cape Town’s tourism radar. Hylton Mitchell and business partner Gerome Hofmeester have challenged perceptions with the launch of the first backpackers in the area.
The Blue Flag Backpackers opened its doors in the Cape Flats community of Steenberg in February 2010, with Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato cutting the ribbon.
According to Mitchell, the Cape Flats offers its visitors warmth, hospitality and more.
“Myself and Gerome have always been talking about making the Cape Flats more accessible to tourists,” he says. “We know the Cape Flats as a vibrant, diverse set of people and neighbourhoods, full of creative and funny characters.”
A large, flat expanse of land south-east of Cape Town’s central business district, the Cape Flats was used during South Africa’s apartheid era for the removal of black and coloured people from the more central urban areas.
Mitchell and Hofmeester, co-owners of Blue Flag Tours, opened their backpackers in time to help host the thousands of fans who will be arriving in South Africa for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and already their accommodation is full for the duration of the tournament.
“The 2010 Fifa World Cup has placed South Africa on the international stage, and it has given young entrepreneurs like ourselves the confidence to take a step,” says Mitchell. “We believe small and medium entrepreneurs are vital in unlocking the potential of this event.”
Mitchell’s long-term plan is to help place the Cape Flats on the tourism map. “We want to take tourists to the famous cultural spots and develop specific tourist products that are unique to the Cape Flats, like the Minstrel Celebration that takes place each year.”
The entrepreneurs also aim to ensure that Blue Flag establishments benefit local communities. Through training and employment, the Bue Flag Backpackers will enable a number of community members to get involved in growing tourism in the area.
“We have formed close links with the community and want to offer internships and apprenticeships for young people in the area,” says Mitchell.
“In the street where the backpacker is operating we’ve employed ladies to clean and prepare food for some of our guests. We see it as an opportunity for the community to come and sell their arts and craft to tourists and get to meet people from other parts of the world as part of our cultural exchange experience.”