Come January 2013, tourists and locals in Johannesburg will get a chance to see the city in a way they have never done before.
Bright red, open-topped buses will ferry passengers through an experience of the everyday sights and sounds, cultures and heritage of the city as part of a new tour operation by a company called City Sightseeing.
The international city tour operator, which has been running a similar venture in Cape Town since 2002, has operations in 100 other countries around the world.
CEO and founder of the Cape Town business, Claus Tworeck, would like the Johannesburg operation to benefit locals.
“The tours promise to open up a whole new side of this amazing city for locals and tourists alike, and in doing so we will grow tourism spend while providing employment for the city’s residents.”
This employment will come in the form of the locals working with City Sightseeing as ambassadors for the project. They are also targeting local tourists for the most part, as much as 60% of their clientèle.
The four buses that will make up the Johannesburg tour operation comply with the Euro 4 standard for emissions and environmental impact.
City Sightseeing South Africa is also the first bus company in the country to be declared carbon neutral and the first of the City Sightseeing franchises around the world to achieve this status.
Seven years into its existence, the Cape Town branch was recognised as the International City Sightseeing Operator of the Year in 2009 in an annual competition that pits all the company’s international operations against each other. The accolade was a reward for their innovation, customer service, overall brand experience and their commitment to environmental sustainability.
“We’re ecstatic! It’s especially satisfying knowing that we beat top international open top bus operators from cities like New York, Paris and London,” said Tworeck at the time.
A single bus can carry 22 passengers on the bottom in single and double seats, and 55 passengers on top in double seats.
Each seat has an FM radio attached and, with the headsets they receive when they board, passengers can listen to music while waiting for the bus to depart. Once the tour commences, the music stops and a tour guide takes over.
Hopping on and off
To potential tourists, the company’s website describes Cape Town as a place that gives tourists a taste of the world in just one day: where one can have breakfast in a New York-style deli, lunch in an African shebeen, cocktails on a sunset cruise and dine in style in a fine British colonial restaurant, the advert further reads.
The Johannesburg route is more history orientated. It begins at Gautrain Park Station and proceeds to Gandhi Square, then City Hall, Roof of Africa at the Carlton Centre, the James Hall Transport Museum, the Apartheid Museum and Gold Reef City, the Mining District, the World of Beer, the Newtown Precinct, the Origins Centre at Wits University, and ends at Constitution Hill.
With the first tour at 9am, the buses will operate on a hop-on, hop-off basis at designated stops along the route so the passengers can use the time to explore the city in their own way before getting on the next one. There will be 30-minute intervals between the last bus and the next one at each stop.
It costs R140 (US$20) for the day trip, but a 20% discount is guaranteed for online bookings. School groups can book tours for weekdays during school terms.
“The buses will change people’s perception of the city,” said Tworeck.
The tours are also family orientated as there is no smoking or alcohol allowed on the bus.
“Good news for parents is that our buses are child-friendly. Children receive a free activity book on the bus and can also join our kids club,” said Tworeck.
Aiming for local passengers
The perception of downtown Johannesburg as a criminals’ haven has changed in the last decade with greater police visibility and investment by city authorities in monitoring former crime hotspots with closed circuit camera technology.
With many of its historic buildings restored, and its heritage sites, art and food markets, Johannesburg has seen changes for the better in its look.
With the tours, City Sightseeing is aiming for a large percentage of their customers, 60%, to be locals who will be able to see these changes for themselves. Tworeck said their goal is to promote domestic tourism.
Dawn Roberston, the chief executive of the Gauteng Tourism Authority, welcomed the business venture.
“We are very excited about the new hop-on hop-off buses,” she said. “They are sure to become a premier tourism experience in Johannesburg. In future we are looking at bringing the buses to Pretoria too.”
By: Ray Maota