A young entrepreneur had the foresight to recognise foreign students as a lucrative market.

More than a thousand foreign students took part in the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) semester study abroad programme in 2016, each of them spending US$6 000 on tuition and contributing further large amounts to the economy as they became “part of our local family”, in the words of Cape Town’s tourism chief.

Enver Duminy, chief executive of Cape Town Tourism, told African News Agency (ANA) on Wednesday that international study and student exchange programmes were valuable “in that they not only expose the students to more of the global village, but they also provide significant economic benefits to tourism and nontourism businesses locally”.

In polling the 2016 students, UCT discovered that they ate out a lot more often than South African students, travelled extensively in Cape Town and surrounds as well as within South Africa and to neighbouring countries.

The International Academic Programmes Office at UCT also noted that many of the students were visited by parents and other family and friends during their stay, with knock-on benefits to the country’s tourism industry.

Duminy added: “In 2015, according to Stats SA, international visitors contributed R108.8 billion in total to the South African economy, and this spend is likely to have increased in 2016. These medium-term student visitors become part of our local family and, in the process, many become lifelong travel enthusiasts.”

The largest number of visiting students came from the US, with a total of 791 students, followed by Norway, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark. Students from an additional 25 countries made for a total of 1 014 students last year.

At least one business was started in direct response to the needs of this market. Langa entrepreneur Siyabulela ‘Sabu’ Siyaka created a small tourism business to serve these students.

“When I started, I didn’t even have a brochure or website but did lots of research about tours to find out what visitors are looking for,” says Siyaka, who wrote an essay about his concept and sent it to the International Education Association of South Africa to get their endorsement and help with accessing students.

He created a township tour experience in his own neighbourhood, Langa, South Africa’s oldest township, for international students. It was to become the foundation of his company, Ubizo Tours and Events (the word Ubizo refers to an ancestral calling or vocation).

The business has since expanded beyond student tours, and Siyaka employs others in his company, which directly benefits eight other small businesses.

The tours showcase local musicians and artists as well as street traders and food stalls and usually culminate at Mzansi restaurant, which is owned and run by Siyaka’s mother.

His ability to identify opportunities also took him to Cape Town Tourism (CTT). Siyaka was successful in his application to be a beneficiary of the CTT Board Development Fund, which provides financial assistance and other nonmonetary benefits such as mentorship.

The board selects a number of beneficiaries each year for a R50 000 award designed to assist historically disadvantaged individuals in small businesses with potential.

Cape Town Tourism’s Duminy commended the young entrepreneur for his foresight in recognising the students as a market.

“He has gone on to create a business offering enjoyed by hundreds of students from tertiary institutions each year,” Duminy said.

“International students and their families enjoy exploring their home from home. Indeed, many choose Cape Town not only for its world-class education facilities but because the city has so much to offer as a destination.”

This article was first published by The Citizen on 11 January 2017.