The Defining Event
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.
The Founding of the Company
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).
The Component System
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.
The First Customers
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 view of Umfulana’s annual growth in sales of nearly 100% during the first six years, the decision was made to expand the company’s successful concept to new destinations around the world.
New Zealand and Australia
In 2002 Martin Bach undertook an expedition to New Zealand with one of the company’s new staff members. A small office modelled on the branch office in South Africa was opened in New Zealand to manage tours to the region. This office was closed in 2010 and the work performed there was transferred to the branch in South Africa, which added new staff members and relocated from the Zululand to the town of Salt Rock on the coast of the Indian Ocean.
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 programme as France, Italy and England.
The addition of North America to our programme was prompted by a member of our Oceania staff. There are indeed many geographical and historical similarities between Australia and the USA, as well as between Canada and New Zealand. Self-guided rental car tours represent an excellent means of travel on both continents. The Anglo-Saxon approach has led to the establishment of numerous original B&Bs, where the hosts were inspired more by lifestyle considerations to take guests into their home than by financial interests.
In 2008 we succeeded in expanding our operations to the Far East. This was not an easy process, as it entailed rethinking our entire concept. It was not possible to organize rental cars tours there based on our well-established system. Instead, drivers and guides are hired to escort our clients throughout the tour.
Construction of a new office building
The rented office space in Germany had gradually became too small, so the move to a newly constructed office building in 2011 came as a relief to the staff. The wooden structure in Kürten, Germany, is extremely energy efficient and bright. It was designed to give visitors the same sense of hospitality that is conveyed by our inns. At the heart of the facility is the large kitchen, where the staff cook lunch together every day.
The core business of Umfulana, which is now a private limited company with offices on two continents and a staff of 25, has shifted. No longer a small provider of tours to South Africa, the company now arranges tailor-made itineraries for travellers to a wide variety of destinations worldwide.
Yet certain things have not changed:
- Every client is assigned to a regional specialist who oversees the planning of the tour from beginning to end.
- Our staff members regularly visit the destinations they sell.
- We offer unique lodgings ranging from African bush lodges to Sicilian olive mills.
- Every tour is tailored to the client’s specifications.