In The Press

 

Three cheers for Baz Bus and a future-dated ethos

The Baz Bus Turned 10 last month. It is hard to imagine life without it. Kim McGowan reports

It took some foresight and not a little wherewithal to spring a couple of buses on an industry that today, 10 years later, has still to fully embrace the worldwide backpacking phenomenon. Any yet is hard to imagine our backpacker tourism scene without the Baz Bus. It is an imprinted as any prominent feature, or as any stamp in any tourist’s passport. Its success must have hurt those that love the refrain that swirls behind entrepreneurial endeavours: Why didn't we think of that? But then who would have thought, for instance, that Robben Island would be turned into the money-spinner it is today? Tourism grew, that is all there is to it. And so too for the likes of Baz Bus, and others who saw potential and got in at the start. Their rank is now established. Everyone knows them. Businesses have even grown up around these pioneers. Hostels and lodges (currently more than 200), with sings in many tongues, have proliferated on Baz Bus routes. For it is the foreign independent traveler clan that Baz Bus traps into. It was while tinkering around overseas himself that Barry Zeidel, aka 'Baz', got the idea for his idea. He saw similar concepts in Europe (Slow Coach) and Australia (Oz Experience). Back home in 1995, he bought two new buses, hired an assistant to answer the telephone and two drivers. They plied their trade between Johannesburg and Cape Town twice a week. The route was then broadened and the buses traveled from Cape Town, via Port Elizabeth, to Durban, Johannesburg and Kimberly, and then back to Cape Town. Then, due to customer demand, the route between Cape Town and Johannesburg, via the coast alone, was made bi-directional. Zeidel also introduced more and smaller buses with trailers, as well as no time limits on tickets, for it was found that Baz Bus travelers tended to have months in which to travel and would even break their travels to return home. Today, the company has a staff of 40 countrywide and a funky fleet of 10 semi-luxury buses, all with on-board televisions and videos. They transport 15 000 people annually (90 per cent being international visitors) with a stock in trade that includes surfboards and bicycles.

Today: Barry Zeidel (above), founder of the Baz Bus empire, with one of his compa- ny's new 19 - seaters.

Circa 1995 (right): Even the tourists seemed to believe in what could have been a rocky road to nowhere.

Their route still stretches from Cape Town, up along the East Coast to Durban and thence to Johannesburg and Swaziland, and then back again. They buses also travel daily in both directions to Port Elizabeth and five times a week to Durban, every day of the year. While shuttles hive off from the main routes, to touch base at places such as Hermanus, Hogsback, Coffee Bay, Sabe and even the Mozambican Capital, Maputo. Passengers can hop on hop off at their choice of pre-determined stops in more than 50 towns and cities around the country. Tickets do not expire until passengers reach their final destination, even if this takes months or years to complete. Not surprisingly, once senses happiness and feels a certain amount of envy whenever one sees a Baz Bus, knowing there are people in those buses without a care in the world.

 
 
 
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