In 1997 Martin and Gabriele Bach moved from Germany to South Africa with their four children. Both of the Bachs had been serving as ministers in a village near Cologne when Gabi was offered a position as minister of a Lutheran church in a town called Hermannsburg in KwaZulu-Natal.
While touring South Africa a year later with some friends from Germany, Tobias Garstka and Martin Bach came up with the idea of establishing a small travel agency for Germans interested in travelling to South Africa. Tobias had gone through confirmation at the church where Martin was minister in Germany and had provided valuable assistance with youth work.
Six months later a company named Umfulana – individuelles Reisen CC (Umfulana Personalised Tours) was founded. The name Umfulana is a diminutive of the Zulu word for river and thus means “little river” or “stream”, a literal translation of Martin Bach’s last name (“Bach” is the German word for stream).
Based on a simple concept, brief descriptions of lodges and landscapes that were composed in a garage in South Africa were linked together to form tours. Itineraries were produced by Tobias in a spare room in Kürten, Germany, a small town near Cologne, with the help of his brother Dennis, who also created the company’s first website.
Umfulana’s first customers were friends of the owners. The client base slowly expanded as the young company’s work processes and marketing methods improved. In the beginning every booking, even the reservation of a rental car, was celebrated as a huge success.
By 2000 Umfulana had grown to the point where additional help was needed. Two secretaries were hired, one who put together itineraries in Germany and one who carried out the bookings in South Africa. At the same time the German office was moved from the spare room in Kürten to a rented building. In South Africa a second garage was acquired.
In 2002 Martin Bach returned to Germany. Despite the stunning beauty of the South African landscapes, Martin had become homesick for “Old Europe” with its historical cities, its gothic cathedrals, its cultural heritage and even its forests. The next obvious step was to add such European destinations to the program as France, Italy and England. In 2004 the new product was launched with Sicily being the first tour to take place.