How did two Dutchies create South Africa’s favourite boutique camping brand? The Dutch travel magazine, Oog Voor Afrika recently interviewed AfriCamps’ co-owners Jeroen van Rootselaar and Manou Bleumink on the origins of AfriCamps and their road to success. We couldn’t keep this story from our local community, so, here it is! The story of how two Dutch entrepreneurs revolutionised glamping as we know it in South Africa.
A NEW START
After arriving in South Africa, Manou Bleumink and his girlfriend Willemijn started a homeshare B&B in their rented house to help make ends meet. The demand for student accommodation grew and so they founded Cape Town Rocks. Their successful company filled a gap in the market for the rental of beautiful apartments, houses and student rooms. This was their first encounter with the tourism industry in South Africa.
Jeroen van Rootselaar and his partner Katelijne arrived in South Africa in 2006 with two backpacks, some surf equipment and a website about internships. As a student, Jeroen completed an internship in Cape Town and fell head over heals for the city. The couple saw a gap in the market after their own internship in the Mother City and started the internship agency, 4exchange.
The two companies overlapped in the market for student housing, but after a chance meeting over a beer, Jeroen and Manou clicked instantly.
Soon we started brainstorming about starting a business together and, coincidentally we both thought of different forms of tents and camping gear. That’s how AfriCamps was founded.
THE CHALLENGE: AFRICAMPS
Manou: ‘We both saw a glamping trend starting in Europe. At various farms and campsites, you suddenly saw cheerfully decorated “safari” tents. That was funny to see for the Dutch in South Africa because the original form of the safari tent really comes from here. The tents in Europe, with their double bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom, however, seemed more like canvas cottages suitable for the whole family. Our idea was to import the glamping trend to South Africa. We could not find local tents that met our requirements and importing tents was too expensive. We decided to buy a sewing machine and learn how to work with industrial sewing machines and canvas.
With the help of YouTube videos, we tried to familiarise ourselves with industrial sewing machines and canvas.
After eight months of designing, sewing canvas, building furniture and welding couplers, we built a life-size glamping tent in an old asbestos factory building.
Jeroen: ‘Then things went quickly. Investors picked up our plans and with their financial help we set up a production facility in Atlantis. Atlantis has a huge youth unemployment rate, so we trained young, local labourers.
On 1 November 2015, exactly two years after the purchase of our first sewing machine, we opened our first camp at one of the biggest working ostrich farms in Oudtshoorn.
Now we have six camps at the most beautiful locations in the Western Cape. Since 1 July 2018, there is also a camp in Hazyview, Mpumalanga. All camps can be booked separately, or as a route. Our vision is that guests can experience how an authentic South African family lives in their country, while learning everything about real South African products. As an AfriCamps guest, you will meet the farm owners, become acquainted with their produce and the unique fauna and flora of the area.’
Jeroen: ‘The future of AfriCamps is bright. People show a need for meaningful travel experiences where the local people, the country and food can be experienced in an authentic way. AfriCamps offers that experience like no other. With the opening of AfriCamps at Mackers in Hazyview, Mpumalanga, we have taken the first step in our national expansion plan.’
People from Namibia, Botswana and even Zimbabwe have expressed their interest in AfriCamps. Signs are promising that we can make AfriCamps the glamping brand of Southern Africa.
Photo: AfriCamps at Mackers in Hazyview.
What is the unforgettable memory? The wow moment?
Manou: ‘There are countless! But what really stood out was when I arrived with my family at our first camp in Oudtshoorn. We looked out over the dam and saw the tents looming in the distance under the splendour of the setting sun. An unforgettable feeling.’
Jeroen: ‘The moment our investors decided to invest a serious amount in the wild plans of two boys, a sewing machine and a self-made glamping tent. Manou and I dreamed enormously and all of a sudden there were serious entrepreneurs who dared to dream with us! I got the opportunity to start up a unique company for the second time and, once again, realized that South Africa is the country of unlimited possibilities.’
What are your favourite spots in South Africa? Where would you take us?
‘That’s easy. Of course, we’ll take you on a 21-day glamping tour through the Western Cape, where you’ll visit all our camps.’
• AfriCamps at Doolfhof Wines (opens on 1 December 2018) in Wellington. Johan Fourie takes you into the wine cellars and teaches you everything about his craft.
• AfriCamps at Stanford Hills. Owner Peter Kastner tells you all about the protea floriculture, about his wines and you can enjoy a delicious lunch at his own restaurant.
• AfriCamps at Kam’Bati in Swellendam. This is a children’s paradise with activities on the farm and Breede River.
• AfriCamps at Oakhurst in Wilderness (opens on 1 October 2018). A beautiful dairy farm with mountain bike trails through the woods, a private waterfall and a very special church.
• AfriCamps at Ingwe, Plettenberg Bay. See beautiful views of the green hilltops of Plettenberg Bay, hiking trails through the primeval forests and the beach around the corner.
• AfriCamps Klein Karoo, Oudtshoorn. Learn all about a working ostrich farm, with a beautiful view over the Cango Valley and the Swartberg Mountains.
• AfriCamps at Pat Busch Mountain reserve. This is one of our most popular camps with gorgeous views of the mountains in the reserve. A true hidden gem!
Photo: AfriCamps at Pat Busch Nature Reserve in Robertson.