Coffeebeans Routes is a South African travel specialist founded by Jethro Louw and Iain Harris. It comes from a focus to help, educate, employ, and support disadvantaged communities in townships. Looking for additional components in their political history classes, they started to visit local musicians in South African townships. It turned out to be extremely powerful for people to visit these considered unsafe places they heard of but didn’t have access to.
They decided to take more people out and develop a structure around their visits. Iain: “When developing the Cape Town Jazz Safari, we were just playing tourism. We re-shaped how we thought about the tourism product. Clear economic development and less changing the world. More focus on having fun, making music, and creating some local income. The model worked!”[content_control logged_in]
“Tourism is our playground to share stories of African cities”
Coffeebeans Routes uses tourism as a canvas for stories and according to them, people are not using it enough yet. “It gives you the chance to write stories that are experimental and that show the raw, authentic lives”. Interesting here is that Coffeebeans Routes is not just going there because it’s a township. No, they’re only following the action, the music and they would like to share it with travellers.
Coffeebeans Routes doesn’t want to be known for visiting townships. They also don’t call them townships but simply by their names. They feel that changing the language is important. “We want to shift the landscape by changing the way we talk and how we move in it”. It has proved to be an idea with foresight and paved the way for people to do more things in this environment. “It’s such a powerful visit for all parties involved”.
In this environment, tourism is a bridge: forging relationships with suppliers (locals) and the demand side (travellers). The objective has always been to sustainably develop the area with a cross-sector approach. Coffeebeans Routes has set the foundation for immersive cultural changes in these areas. Working together with local counsellors, local organisation, art, and culture organisations. “People thought we were crazy by taking people out in townships in the dark. But we’d take out different groups, it started to become big, and people loved it”.
People that work with Coffeebeans Routes become part of the supply-chain. One that wouldn’t exist if they were not there to work together. “Therefore, they are not beneficiaries from us, we are beneficiaries from their services. It’s a two-way relationship where we benefit from one another”. The main potential of tourism is to educate, train and provide real jobs and livelihoods for these communities. In reality, responsible tourism is all about changing the power dynamics and making them fairer and better for the most vulnerable out there.
People in the townships don’t consider themselves poor. The majority of savings are in townships, in cash under their mattresses. “They’re running all these survival jobs such as roasting and selling nuts. They also know they can change the narrative when sharing their passion such as fashion and music.” They’re very entrepreneurial and culturally rich. This is what Coffeebeans Routes wants to share with travellers. “We did however notice that travellers start to feel guilty. But poverty doesn’t mean you’re worth less.”
Western people have a very high self-esteem and used to their own privileges. Coffeebeans Routes uses this as an opportunity to talk about this. To sing and learn about local history, issues, lives, and songs. “It allows them to connect narratives that were disconnected, it nuances their own lives as well”.
According to Coffeebeans Routes, safety is not an issue. The idea that accidents or attacks should (only) happen in townships is wrong. “Incidents in townships have never really affected us so far, because of our local relationships. In tourism you always have to make sure the travel experience has value for local stakeholders”.
“The people we work with know that when something happens, their business is compromised. They always reduce the risk of anything happening.” It’s about visiting the right places and balance between not shutting everything down because it’s dangerous, but at the same time tell people not to go at 3AM.
Through their tours, Coffeebeans Routes gives people the opportunity to see the environment differently. Their tourism is based on relationships and where black excellence is valued. Travel experiences that value the reality and insight of life. “They learned how to do business with us. Our ethos was always to allow people up their game as a result of working with us”.
When Coffeebeans Routes moves out, they want other people to keep the existing relationships in place. The entire business is set-up in a way where it’s truly a shared effort. An exchange of stories and a complete unique perspective and insight in the local lives in townships. “We’ve set the foundation for immersive cultural exchanges”.[/content_control]