18 April 2008
Dressed in yellow bibs and only too eager to help, the “Tjommies” (Afrikaans slang for “friends”) are eight formerly unemployed youngsters turned visitor guides, giving tourists advice on attractions in and around Cape Town and helping them have a hassle-free holiday.
The Tjommies Ambassador Project is the brainchild of non-profit organisation Men on the Side of the Road (MSR) in partnership with the City of Cape Town.
Through this project, the city can help ensure tourist safety while providing unemployed youngsters to access employment opportunities in different segments of the tourism industry.
Tjommies shift manager Anton Peterson told BuaNews this week that the concept was developed in December last year as part of developing visitor services in the city ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
“They are trained to assist tourists and are provided with maps, guides and season specific information,” he said. “Training on the city’s heritage and tourist attractions and how to present themselves to tourists is also given.”
Peterson said that visitors from Europe as well as from other African countries were making use of the Tjommies’ services, with plans afoot to employ 100 Tjommies around the city by 2009.
Already, a further 15 youngsters started this week on their training to be Tjommies in Cape Town.
Representing city and country
28-year-old Nosipo Damane from the township of Gugulethu outside Cape Town was recruited as a Tjommie in December 2007, and described herself as lucky to be part of the group.
“In my job I meet different people everyday. It is even better to help visitors from outside South Africa because then I have to be at my best as am not only representing Cape Town, but South Africa as my country,” she told BuaNews.
However, tourists were sometimes sceptical about the Tjommies and were a little apprehensive when approached.
“Sometimes visitors become defensive. Maybe they think I am a beggar or criminal but I was trained on how to deal with different situations and all in all I enjoy every minute.”
Developing local tourism
The City of Town has contributed about R250 000 towards training the Tjommies, who receive a basic salary and can receive tips.
“The tourism industry welcomed the implementation of the project and we want to build on its performance leading up to hosting the World Cup,” said Simon Grindrod, the city councillor in charge of economic development and tourism.
Nationally, the world cup is expected to create 80 000 jobs in the tourism and hospitality sectors.
The city has shown a positive growth in occupancies over the festive season, according to a snap accommodation survey conducted by the Cape Town Tourism Department.
“The 2007/08 festive season has been a bumper season, as predicted by the tourism industry,” said the department.
Further to this, Cape Town reported no serious visitor safety incidents at any of the main tourist attractions during December.
“We believe that the collaborative approach between all stakeholders, citizens and visitors contributed significantly to improving visitor safety,” Grindrod said.
Aside from the Tjommies Ambassador Project, other city-supported projects include the Festive Season Visitor Welcome and Safety Campaign and the Safety Awareness Campaign.