NO sector of South Africa's tourism industry has seen more growth in recent years than the youth market, writes Steve Hartridge.
The introduction of charter flights and imaginative around-the-world tickets has made the country affordable to even students and those taking a year out from their studies - and the backpacker invasion of the Republic is well under way.
Hostelling International South Africa (HISA) estimate that since it came into being in October 1994, the backpacker market has increased tenfold.
As the number of youth hostels grew so did the need for transportation to get the backpackers around. One company that sprung up to fill this gap is Baz Bus.
By operating the hop-on hop-off idea, with pick ups and drop offs at the country's youth hostels, the bus allows visitors plenty of independence in planning their South African experience.
Company founder and managing director Barry Zeidel (Baz Bus, get it?) admits that the concept is one he imported from Down Under.
"I got the idea from the Slow coach and Oz Experience. Like Australia, South Africa is ideal for the hop-on, hop-off concept.
"It took a while for us to get the thing up and going. We started off by picking up from just one hostel in Port Elizabeth." Three years later, Baz Bus now runs eight Vehicles ferrying passengers from Swaziland to Cape Town and most points in-between.
Baz Bus stops at. Over 40 cities and towns although the number of pick up and drop off Points varies - from over 35 hostels in Cape Town alone to one, Coral Divers, in Sodwana Bay.
"We provide a door-to-door link between most hostels," adds Zeidel. "It's great for young travellers because they can go where and when they please and spend as long as they want between stops. We've taken the worry out of how they are going to reach their next hostel." One significant advantage of Baz Bus is that it can take you places that are easily overlooked when sticking to the usual well-trodden tourist paths.
"One of my favourites is the beach at Cintsa, about 40km north of East London in the Eastern Cape. It's unspoiled and totally gorgeous," adds Zeidel.
As anyone who has ever travelled on an inter-city bus (in almost any country you care to mention) will testify, the bus stations are often located either in no-go areas or a hike or a taxi ride from the centre of town. And South Africa is no exception.
"One thing we offer which the regular buses can't is a service straight to your accommodation. For example, in Plettenberg Bay the town's bus station is on the edge of town, but Baz Bus takes you right to your hostel's front door."
Baz Bus has received some UK media attention, in appropriate magazines like TNT, and vouchers (exchangeable for tickets in SA) are available from STA Travel outlets in London. And the news is getting out: the Brits, says Zeidel, are starting to make their way down.
- Sample fares: Johannesburg/Pretoria to cape Town via Swaziland and Zululand costs 105 one way (180 return), Cape Town to Durban is 95 one way (180 return). The number of stops passengers can make along the way is unlimited.
- For further information contact Baz Bus on 00-27-21-439-2323; Fax; 00-27-21-439-2343; email: firstname.lastname@example.org LoadEmail('General Enquiry')