Imagine tourism & local changemakers, side by side.
We're bringing Global North and Global South together:
Make deeply connecting with the most inspiring changemakers excluded from tourism in the city you’re visiting an effortless process, with a view to catalyze a wave of social entrepreneurship in the community and bridge the legacy Apartheid divide.
Fun, funny, friendly, thoughtful, intellectual, and above all, caring. We also tend to be quite youthful, current, and cool...! Our outlook is toward the future — we come away feeling we can change our lives and change the world. That said, we fully appreciate how Cape Town and South Africa's past shapes the present. We love all people in their great diversity.
Changemakers receive handsome compensation when you book, plus Side by Side has a 10% pledge, which gets invested back into the community annually. Changemakers also gain experience-hosting skills, optional donations, HD content of themselves in action & telling their story, and stronger networks.
How we're closing the gap:
Through transformational immersion tours, event add-ons and motivational talks, Side by Side helps create the tourism market access that local changemakers so deserve.
Side by Side has three divisions to offer the aforementioned services, which address the following three questions:
(i) If visitors to Cape Town are increasingly seeking an immersive travel experience and hungry to plug into the developmental process of the city they’re visiting, then why on earth should that be a difficult, if not an impossible, task?
Through Side by Side Immersions (our foremost division, that our Experience and Tour products fall under), guests visit the community—most often Langa township at this stage—to share authentic, immersive experiences hosted by the entrepreneurs entailing story telling, skill-sharing, exchange of ideas, and volunteering.
Tours are currently co-lead by Side by Side’s founder, Jason Woolf (Volofu on Instagram), a Xhosa-speaking American+South African social entrepreneur & musician; by community-based changemakers, who host short experiences; and/or community-based tour guides.
(ii) Why should those experiences and services be limited to the changemakers’ neighborhoods, whereas we can also bring the the exceptional experiences, products & services from these neighborhoods to where the international visitors already are? Through Side by Side Activations, we’re spicing up meet-and-greets, conferences, farewell dinners and more by making them more inspiring and inclusive.
(iii) Why not highlight these entrepreneurs’ voices in a more strategic and impressive way? Through Side by Side Speakers Bureau, find the perfect motivational talk for your function, or even just an informal chat over one of your meals.
It’s time that visitors of Cape Town have the chance to be ‘side by side’ with Pamela, who’s created employment in the arts for over 50 youth; with Bulelani, who’s cleaning residential areas and creating community gardens; with Sifiso, who’s redefining taverns and street corners through jams and community-building events; with Faith, who’s take-away food establishment is a hidden gem and proudly run as family business; and dozens more like them.
Where we're headed:
Side by Side aims to become an online platform and a specialized tour operator that moves the needle on inclusive tourism and job creation in low-income communities and high-impact sectors across Southern Africa. We make the process of deeply connecting with changemakers—the most inspiring entrepreneurs, innovators and idealists dedicated to sustainable development—in the unequal city you or your clients are visiting an effortless one.
Southern Africa has in recent years experienced strong tourism growth, but this usually has widened the wealth gap—although it need not. The travel trade and the media by and large prefer to send their guests to legacy tourism establishments and attractions that are standardly owned by the wealthy—although they need not. These establishments and attractions succeed because they are widely visible, simple to book, familiar, clean and safe—and there is a trove of online content and reviews offering reassurance here. Tourists, however, increasingly find overtourism and unoriginal travel distasteful, and prefer more personal, non-touristy interactions, especially with up-and-coming locals championing important work. But there has yet to emerge a company that effectively meets this new consumer demand whilst also crucially assuring the convenience, quality and trustworthiness that ultimately determines travel choices.
Side by Side boldy strives to be that company. Imagine: VICE Media meets Airbnb Experiences meets ILIOS Travel. Like VICE Media, Side by Side will creatively document and profile locals, except focusing on changemakers and the hands-on/interactive experiences they'll host. Like Airbnb Experiences, Side by Side will aggregate a wide array of experiences with local hosts on an advanced booking platform, except one that allows for a higher degree of customization, operational add-ons (transportation, guides, travel consultants), and much more B2B functionality (automatic commissions, insurance coverage databases). Like ILIOS Travel, Side by Side will offer said operational support (transportation, guides, travel consultants), except as optional add-ons on a tech-enabled platform that allows direct consumers and the travel trade alike to browse available options and instantly book.
In this way, Side by Side becomes the FIT's (free independent traveler) and the travel agent's complete online solution to create the inspiring and socially impactful African travel experience without ever breaking a sweat or wasting a minute.
The journey so far:
Side by Side was registered as SidebySide Township Development Group in August 2018, and is now operating as Side by Side Experiences & Tours.
Our three flagship experiences are (i) a ‘Walk Down Memory Lane’ walking tour centred on the life journey of the township entrepreneur that leads you to the places in the community that shaped his/her life, (ii) an African Zumba class alongside a local youth dance group, and (iii) an African Fusion lunch in conversation with a restaurant founder. We mix-and-match these three and string them together into different half-day and full-day immersion tours—our Blend the City touring line. We regularly accommodate bespoke requests for other experiences.
In the first 18 months since incorporation, we have hosted about 30 immersion tours, mostly in Langa township in Cape Town. Founder Jason Woolf is the only full-time staff, and Side by Side contracts a small pool of entrepreneurs to run the experiences, as well as local tour guides to lead larger groups alongside Jason (who is still guiding all immersion tours).
Our guests love directly supporting early-stage entrepreneurs from the townships, and us as a social enterprise with a big commitment to change. They also love the great value for money our products boast: our popular immersion tours include many value-added services like collection from hotels, an orientation, HD photography/videography, lunch pre-ordering, meals, transportation, and a specialist guide in Woolf (NYU-educated social entrepreneur conversant in IsiXhosa and that lived in Khayelitsha for a year).
Through our 10% pledge, we offer support services for entrepreneurs and changemakers to accelerate their impact. Those monies are still being saved up so that the impending investment is one of genuine significance and impact.
Although several university groups, the Western Cape government, FITs and other institutions have used our services, our core business is the Destination Management industry (inbound tour operators). Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, a partnership with ILIOS Travel was in the works that would make Side by Side’s half-day and full-day immersion tours bookable through ILIOS, with the proviso that those tour bookings utilize ILIOS’s fleet. Direct consumers will be able to book us through the ILIOS website, and the travel industry will be able to book through Tourplan and other internal softwares.
Jason Woolf CEO / Founder
Jason was born in the U.S. shortly after his South African parents immigrated to the country. He designed his own degree at New York University called Social Entrepreneurship and Cultural Revitalization, a degree with so much freedom that it allowed him to live in Khayelitsha—Cape Town’s largest township—for a year to build out Umbiyozo Foundation, the umbrella youth development organization he founded at age 17. Equipped thereafter with relative fluency in IsiXhosa, intimate knowledge of the townships, and heightened consciousness of a world and country with vast economic and cultural disparities, Jason is partnering with tourism to bridge worlds.
Jason has served numerous tourists ad hoc through Umbiyozo Foundation, but started officially guiding in 2017 once he became registered by the National Department of Tourism to guide throughout the Western Cape and Eastern Cape regions.
He feels that South Africa has the perfect blend of assets and opportunities to use tourism to become a model of global co-existence and poverty alleviation for the entire world. A nascent democracy, novel and authentic customs, and a vital, humble spirit are but a few of SA’s most special drawcards for visitors seeking to find and offer hope of a better, shared future.
Although living at home with his 96-year-old grandfather, he intends before long to move to Langa, Cape Town’s oldest township that leads the way in tourism. In his leisure time, he enjoys playing guitar and singing, playing tennis and basketball, hiking, and taking joyrides on his moped.